Darnell Nurse could be the answer to Oilers blue line woes
Rights – Edmonton Oilers
Drafted in the 1st round 7th overall in 2013
D, 6' 4", 193 lbs
Hometown – Hamilton, ON, CAN
The Edmonton Oilers are a team that have long been on the lookout for their star defenseman. Cue Darnell Nurse. Edmonton managed to snag Justin Schultz from the clutches of the Anaheim Ducks and he is looking to round into a very nice piece. He can't do it alone though. Nurse is listed at 6' 4"- 193 pounds and he's still growing. When nurse puts on another 10-20 and adds some strength, he goes from a good prospect to a great prospect, at least if you believe that bigger is better.
Let's assume you don't; on the stat sheet, Nurse has 91 points over the past two seasons in 132 games and is a plus-16 during that time. That's about .7 points per game to go along with 1.6 penalty minutes per game. He seems to be a bit ahead of the grain. Darnell is about 8-9 years from the speculated peak for the average defenseman (29-yrs-old). The thing is he isn't your average defenseman. If he's a step ahead he may peak even earlier and sustain it for an All-Star caliber career – perhaps he peaks even 3-4 years earlier if he is given lots of room to grow when he bursts out of the gate – which he should get in Edmonton.
There is probably a few comparables when you try to track how Darnell's path could unfold. One comparable situation happened just down the road in Calgary about nine years ago. A young defenseman was breaking into the league with some offensive flashes and a gritty game. His 6' 3" frame producing .8 points per game over his last two years of junior. He had 1.7 penalty minutes per game and a bit of an edge – all traits and stats eerily similar to Darnell's. That player was Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was on nearly the same statistical path that Nurse is and was also given the same amount of ice time Nurse could potentially get in the coming year. Even their draft positions were within a few picks, with Nurse at seventh overall and Phaneuf at ninth.
Phanuef's best season offensively came when he was 25-years-old but it was a very different game for the majority of his early years. The 'new NHL' makes things harder on defenseman in their own end but opens up some ice offensively should he possess a skilled set of hands. If Nurse (who will be 20-years-old this winter) is ready mentally – it's rumored he is – and can gain 10 pounds or so over the summer – which it sounds like he intends to do – his skill set should be transferable to the NHL game. A lot of players find the NHL much more structured when they first arrive. You almost know where guys are going to be – that is one thing that will help aid Nurse's learning curve just as it did for Toronto's Morgan Rielly. A dash of Phaneuf, a pinch of Pronger – it could be a very good rookie year. Calder-good even… OK, that may be a stretch?
Nurse was named to the OHL’s 3rd All-Star Team after finishing the season in the top-10 of defenseman scoring. He had a very impressive camp last year and almost forced the Oilers to keep him in the mix for the season. With another year under his belt and a clear vision of what he needs to do to be a successful professional, Nurse will almost certainly be in the NHL when the first puck drops in October. I'm not sure I expect him to be logging top minutes right away but second pairing time isn't out of reach. And you never know with Edmonton, he may find himself elevated to top pairing duties rather quickly.
If you are in a league that has a minor league roster or a prospect roster, Nurse is likely gone already. If your league doesn't have one of those rosters, you likely have him still available. I would pick him up and stash him if you have the ability. He will be added to the core in Edmonton and will play a large role for years to come. I'd say he can be easily in the range of 50-60 points within a few years. With a few good breaks he could even leap into the 35-45 point range in his first year.
He joined the Barons in the AHL to close their season this year. He managed one assist in four games with a minus-1. There is always a chance he gets sent to the minors to develop, but with the group of young talent the Oilers are sporting, I think it would be beneficial for Nurse to grow alongside the rest of the Oilers 'future'. I feel like the Oil brass will feel the same, especially since they nearly kept him in the mix last year.
Nurse won't be a top scoring defenseman right away but he is worthy of a bench spot with the occasional start based on the Oilers opponent on any given night. If you are in a Keeper/Dynasty, Nurse is a must own.
Rights – Toronto Maple Leafs
Drafted in the 2nd round 35th overall in 2012
D, 6' 1", 204 lbs
Hometown – Etobicoke, ON, CAN
Finn till now…
One more step along the road to greatness, that's what 2013-14 was for Matt Finn. First he was a standout at Leafs camp, then upon returning to Guelph of the OHL for one more year he captained them to 52 wins and 108 points – good for tops in the league. The Storm captain put 14 pucks to the back of the net along the way and finished with 61 points and a spectacular plus-57. Finn was named to the OHL's 3rd All-Star team and the Storm entered the playoffs. Not much happened next for the youngster, he just rolled off 14 points in 20 games on the way to an OHL Championship. Now he will attempt to lead his team to a Memorial Cup Championship.
One thing the young Leafs draft pick will bring to the team is leadership. That is something Toronto has had a hard time harvesting from picks in the past. Finn will fit in nicely being a solid two way defender. The Leafs have a real need for a defenseman of his pedigree and even if Finn spends a year developing with the Marlies, he will still be a welcomed voice and performer when he makes his debut on Bay Street.
Depth before Finn
There are a few guys in front of Finn on the depth chart but the fact that he is so capable on both sides of the puck could accelerate his ride to the big club. Realistically, if the Leafs are able to sign Gardiner and Franson and barring any trade that sees Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gleason or Rielly leaving town, there is no way Finn cracks the NHL roster this season. That makes him a Marlie come October. Of the AHL Leafs there are a few names that jump out as candidates to get the first available call-up ahead of Finn – Percy, Granberg, Holzer and MacWilliam. I don't see this as a list set in stone by any means but in order for Finn to position himself for the best chances at an NHL debut in 2014-15 he will have to get the jump on those guys in camp. Another solid training camp could bump Finn over the top in the eyes of those who matter. He is so responsible on both sides of the puck that his value will be given some extra weight. He has also improved his foot speed and skating which he'll need for the increased speed of the NHL. If he isn't ready for prime time yet, he is very, very close.
This guy is likely available in your league but I have to caution you, although he is looking like a can't-miss NHLer, There is no real blueprint that says how quickly he will warrant being coveted in fantasy leagues. He does have the potential upside of 60ish points but it could be 4-5 years before he reaches those levels, if at all. In saying that, he also has the ability and NHL frame to log big minutes and score 35-40 points in his first year. The thing is it is too early to tell how soon Finn becomes fantasy relevant on a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs. There are too many moving pieces in play – do the Leafs move one or two of their defensemen opening up room for new additions? Does Finn play his way on to the opening day roster with a stellar camp? Do early injuries play a role?
What can you do, you can make room for him and hope for the best. What is the worst thing that could happen? If you have space on your roster for keeping bench defensemen it is likely worth having Finn around for when he breaks through. I see him as a full-time NHLer by 2015-16 so it's not like it is a huge wait for you. Picking him up now will avoid a scramble later and back-end guys with point potential like his are valuable and hard to come by. In my eyes the reward far outweighs the risk of using up a roster spot on a guy who may or may not play in the NHL right away.
The Readers Digest version of that answer is – take a shot on him with the thinking that he'll be one of your top defensemen within 3 years. Lots of changes could be on the way for the Maple Leafs and Finn would stand to benefit from any movement on the back-end. Since that is where most of the Leafs trade value lies, act accordingly.
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