We are going through the list that I consider to be the Oilers’ top 10 most important prospects. This is not strictly a list of the most skilled young or unestablished players in the organization. In the first installment I explained my thought process and I’ll be including that paragraph in each one of these posts just so I don’t have to figure out 10 different ways of saying the same thing.
I plan on going over the top 10 most important prospects in the Oilers’ organization. This is a little different (though not by much) than going through what I consider are the 10 best prospects in the organization. The key difference is that their ranking is determined both by their potential as well as how much the NHL club needs them to succeed. For example, I believe Iiro Pakarinen is a better prospect than several players on this list but as another winger in an organization flush with them I don’t have him in my top 10 most important prospects.
We are now in the top two prospects of the Oilers organization. One is an elite forward and the other is an elite defender. It would have been possible for this player to have been named the most important prospect in the organization had the franchise not won the right to draft the most highly touted player to come out of the CHL since Sidney Crosby. He is everything the Oilers rebuild has been missing. Darnell Nurse is the player the Oilers believe will one day lead their blueline. And that day might come sooner rather than later.
10) Jujhar Khaira
9) Kyle Platzer
8) Greg Chase
7) Anthon Slepyshev
6) Bogdan Yakimov
5) Laurent Brossoit
4) Griffin Reinhart
3) Leon Draisaitl
Darnell Nurse was drafted 7th Overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft right behind Sean Monahan and right before Rasmus Ristolainen. Both of those players he was sandwiched between have made the NHL, and Nurse could have as well but the Oilers made an uncharacteristic decision two years in a row and sent him back to the OHL. In Edmonton these decisions have been largely supported because the team has been (rightly or wrongly) perceived as rushing their players to the NHL.
As the story goes, MacT was hard in pursuit of Cory Schneider but the Canucks were asking for the 7th Overall pick plus other assets. The Oilers refused, missing out on a stellar goaltender, and opted to address their need on defense instead. The verbal from day 1 was that Darnell Nurse was a driver. He was an impassioned leader on and off the ice. Mix in great skating, size, and obvious skill and what you get is a pretty fantastic prospect.
Nurse has sports running through his veins. His Mother was a Basketball player at McMaster, his Father played in the CFL for Hamilton. His uncle is former NFL QB Donovan McNabb, and his sister is starring for Basketball Canada. This young man has a support network around him that understands competitive sport on a level very few others do. Along with the work ethic it requires to be a successful professional athlete, Nurse also inherited some spectacular physical gifts. At just 20 years old he stands 6’4” and 218 pounds as of early August and looking at him, he can still fill out.
Edmonton’s best defensive prospect just finished his junior career having played its entirety for the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He was named Captain of the Greyhounds when he was 18 with his coach Sheldon Keefe saying this about his star defender, “Darnell possesses all the qualities you want in a captain. His work ethic, discipline and character on the ice, in the gym and in the classroom make him a natural leader who represents precisely what we want the Soo Greyhounds to be about.”
As per tradition, here are the stats for Nurse as per HockeyDB dating back to the 2011-2012 season.
2011-12 Sault Ste. Marie OHL 53GP, 1G-9A-10P, 61 PIM
2012-13 Sault Ste. Marie OHL 68GP, 12G-29A-41A, 116 PIM
2013-14 Sault Ste. Marie OHL 64GP, 13G-37A-50P, 91 PIM
2013-14 Oklahoma City Barons AHL 4GP, 0G-1A-1P, 0 PIM
2014-15 Sault Ste. Marie OHL 36GP, 10G-23A-33P, 58 PIM
2014-15 Edmonton Oilers NHL 2GP, 0G-0A-0P, 0 PIM
Every year that Nurse spent in the OHL his points per game improved, although his goal the last two seasons was to improve defensively, not offensively. This past season he was 6th in points per game by a defenseman in the OHL. After being cut from the Oilers (wearing his emotions on his sleeve both times) his mission was always to prove he could be better in his own zone. He established a reputation for being extremely difficult to play against because he could skate like a much smaller man, he has a nasty mean streak, and he can take the puck away and move it back up the ice in an instant. As per Connor McDavid himself, Nurse was considered the best defenseman in the OHL.
Nurse was sent back to the OHL both times in hopes that he would get to play big games, specifically for Canada at the World Junior Championships. He was denied that opportunity the first year because of a shocking decision not to include him in selection camp (Max Domi was snubbed as well). Team Canada’s defense failed them that year and they didn’t make the same mistake twice. As a member of the most recent WJC team Darnell Nurse was named player of the game in the Gold Medal Match and he was elected as a 1st team tournament all-star.
He returned to the Soo as a champion then proceeded to help drive the club towards the OHL playoffs where he would have his CHL career ended at the hands of Connor McDavid. Nurse was hard-matched to McDavid the entire time, doing about as good of a job as anyone can rightly be expected against the best player the league had seen in 30 years, but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t have long to wait before he joined the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in the playoffs. Once inserted in the lineup he contributed 4 assists in 4 games and made quite the impression with the coaching staff.
As per (now) Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming appearing on OilersNow, should Nurse return to the AHL he will immediately be on the number 1 defensive pairing. Edmonton’s amazing collection of highly priced 3rd pairing defenders who are almost unmovable will potentially block Nurse from starting the season in the NHL, but the long term projections for this player are still lofty. He is being groomed to be Edmonton’s top defender. He has the nastiness they want, the size, the skating ability to keep up with the fastest players in the league, and he has skill to leapfrog past a lot of people on the current depth chart.
Darnell Nurse is the 2nd most important prospect in the organization. He is the best defensive prospect on a team built around young forwards. His success is critical to Edmonton’s success. You can’t trade for players like Nurse (unless you’re trading with Boston). You have to find them and develop them yourself. The Oilers think they found their guy. He was a leader for the Greyhounds. He was a performer in the OHL and the WJC. He arrived to the AHL and continued his success there in the playoffs. If he develops the way he’s expected to he will be Edmonton’s anchor on the blueline for a decade or more.
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