Darnell Nurse has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for the Oilers. After missing 38 games in his sophomore season last year, his development has continued to spike upwards this year.
In October, Nurse played more than 20 minutes in a game twice. In November, he played BELOW 20 minutes in a game twice. He has played below 20 minutes twice in all of 2018 so far. He has played 25 minutes or more 12 times over the course of the season. He ranks 55th in the entire league in time on ice, averaging 22:06 per game. At even strength, he ranks 19th in the league with 19:27 per game.
Nurse’s +/- rating has increased dramatically each year of his career so far. It was -13 in in 2015-16, 0 in 2016-17, and +16 this year. His +16 ranks 2nd on the team behind only McDavid, and is T53 in the entire league. That’s pretty good on a team whose goal differential is -31.
Players mostly take penalties on plays where they are making up for a mistake. Nurse only has 67 penalty minutes this season. He only took 3 penalties in February, including a stretch of 10 games where he didn’t take a single one. A defenceman that plays as many minutes as he does and takes as few penalties as Nurse does is a great defender.
Nurse’s career high in points coming into this year was the 11 that he got in 44 games last season. This year, he has crushed that total by scoring 25 points. That leads all Oilers defencemen. He has improved his output by 0.07 points per game this year over last. He had a 4 game stretch in January in which he scored 4 goals. That included a 2 goal effort in Arizona (one of which was the game-winner), and the overtime goal in against the Golden Knights in the Oilers’ ever first trip to Vegas. He has 6 multi-point games this season, including a 3 assist performance against the Senators a couple of weeks ago.
Watching Nurse physically dominate in the gold-medal game in the 2015 World Juniors against Russia had me really excited about his potential as an Oiler. It appears as though Nurse is starting to live up to that potential that the Oilers saw in him when he was drafted 7th overall in 2013. His skating has improved, he looks much more confident in carrying the puck up the ice, and his mean streak on the ice makes him tough to play against. He is everything that you could want in a defenceman.
He has come this far in only 194 NHL games. It usually takes approximately 300 NHL games to find out what level a defenceman can get to in the NHL. Nurse will have played 279 games by the end of next season if he were to play in all 82 games. Expect Nurse’s development to continue to trend upwards next season.
This great season from Nurse came at a great time for him because his contract expires on July 1, making him a restricted free agent. Klefbom signed a 7 year deal that costs the Oilers $4.167 million each year, and Sekera’s deal is for $5.5 million. Nurse likely deserves a deal with a value between those two numbers (I’m thinking $4.5 million) over a 5 year term, which would take him right up until he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency.
However, Chiarelli would be well advised to sign Nurse to a bridge deal worth $2.5 million for 2 years because the Oilers will need every little bit of cap savings that they can get for next season. Whatever the number is for Nurse, he’s earned himself a nice raise from his current $863 thousand.