Geek of the Week: The Nurse Will See You Now

by Mike Zacour on July 14, 2019


This week we wanted to focus on a player with fantastic athletic genes coming into his prime age wise on a team that arguably underperformed and could rebound next season.  Darnell Nurse fit the bill.

Nurse was drafted seventh overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2013.  He has one year remaining on his contract with a $3.2 million cap hit.  After putting up a career high in points this past season and logging a career high in time-on-ice, cap leaguers should be well aware that he is due for a serious raise.

The trajectory has been moving upwards for the 24-year-old, 6-4, 220 lb, defensemen.  Over the past three seasons his time on ice has increased from an average of 17:01 to 23:49. Nurse went from 0.25 points-per-game, to 0.32, and ultimately 0.50.

Nurse has averaged a very consistent 2.38 shots per game over the previous two seasons.  He’s converted 4.1% of those shots for 16 goals and hit double digits (10) for the first time in his career in 2018-19.

With a standard Yahoo Head-to-Head Points scoring format (private leagues only) we can see where Nurse was ranked using the Fantasy Hockey Geek tool.
 

Rank

Player

GP

G

A

+/-

SOG

PPP

BKS

Fantasy

Points

59

Mike Hoffman

82

36

34

-24

253

35

26

625

60

Darnell Nurse

82

10

31

-5

196

9

146

500

61

Colton Parayko

80

10

18

+20

176

8

157

496


In addition to the above table, Nurse put up 87 penalty minutes as well as 162 hits in 2018-19.  Multi-cat poolies already had a lot to like about Nurse.

The additional and somewhat unexpected point production had his owners rejoicing.  The potential was always there for Nurse to score more, but the deployment was not. Nurse was one of very few bright spots the Oilers produced last year, and he was arguably their best overall defensemen.

So what caused the 15-point jump?  Let’s take a look at Nurse’s quarterly production from last season:
 

2018-19

Quarter

GP

 

G

A

PTS

SOG

PPP

PPTOI

TOI

1

20

2

4

6

45

0

0:14

21:16

2

22

3

10

13

55

4

2:16

24:15

3

19

2

9

10

54

4

3:02

25:00

4

21

3

9

12

42

1

1:18

23:14


Now let’s look at Oscar Klefbom’s quarterly production:
 

2018-19

Quarter

GP

 

G

A

PTS

SOG

PPP

PPTOI

TOI

1

20

0

8

8

58

3

3:12

25:14

2

11

3

4

7

35

3

3:06

24:02

3

9

1

2

3

23

1

1:03

23:00

4

21

1

9

10

51

4

1:20

22:09


Tables courtesy of Dobber’s Frozen Tools.

We can see a direct correlation between Klefbom’s injury and an increase in power-play time for Nurse. 

Nurse went from 10.2% of the Oilers power-play time in 2017-18 to 42.2% of their power-play time this past season.  He went from zero power-play points to nine power-play points over that same span. 

Factor in a higher shooting percentage at 5.1% versus 3.1%, and we get four more goals totalling an additional 13 points.  The increase in shooting percentage is quite reasonable given an additional year of NHL experience and increased power-play time. 

The other statistic that jumps out on the quarterly break down tables was the quarter-by-quarter decrease in average ice-time for Klefbom. 

To the dismay of Nurse owners, Klefbom did steal back some of that juicy top power-play time in the fourth quarter, but not all of it. He basically split the deployment with Nurse, and Nurse had played well enough to earn the split.

The Oilers have a top-heavy power play unit loaded with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.  There is very little chance we will encounter a split time situation, so the point production of both Nurse and Klefbom will depend tremendously on deployment.

Proven over potential almost always wins out when it comes to NHL power play quarterback defensemen.  For this reason we shouldn’t be overly concerned about Evan Bouchard in the coming season.

The Oilers already have two guys that can flirt with 40 points.  The young defensemen could be the future quarterback for the Oilers, but he will have a lot to learn making the jump to the NHL, should he make the team.  Expect a decent amount of second-unit deployment for the young man as he is eased onto the roster.

Amazingly, Klefbom has never actually had a 40-point season, and he only paced for 38-points while missing 21 games in 2018-19.  This is another factor that could bode well for Nurse.

If you’ve watched the Oilers for the past couple seasons, you’ve probably experienced some frustration with Klefbom’s inconsistency.  Often questioning why Nurse wasn’t getting a shot offensively.

One thing you may or may not have also noticed was the other team’s penalty killers generally seem to have respected the point-shot from Klefbom more than they did with Nurse.  You can’t spell ‘Kelfbom’ without the ‘Bom’.  This can help open up the passing lanes for the Oilers’ skilled forwards and as a fan it’s difficult to pinpoint another reason that he keeps getting thrown out there.

It will be interesting to see how the newly appointed head coach Dave Tippett handles this situation.  Tippett holds the keys to the fantasy value, or lack thereof, for both Nurse and Klefbom.

Nurse is coming into his prime and will turn 25 in February.  He has continued to impress on the ice and the cream eventually rises to the top.  Nurse has cream running through his veins. 

Nurse has been the subject of trade rumours this season, but the Oilers would be foolish to let him go for a winger. 

Reverse the positions of the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, and it would likely end up looking equally poor for the Oilers in a few years should they go this route.

Unless Nurse has had enough of the Oiler organization, they need to find a way to keep him.  Defensemen like him don’t exactly grow on trees and it’s not yet a position of strength for the team.  They are at least a few years away from that.

As usual, point production depends largely on deployment.  If Nurse rips the top deployment away from Klefbom next year and ends up with 60% of the power play time we will likely see a career high in points.

If he can muster close to 200 shots again and convert 4-6% of those shots, we can expect 8-12 goals.  If we did see his power-play time increase almost 20 percent, we could expect his nine power-play assists from last season to improve to roughly 14.  This puts the projection between 43-47 points, IF he can take over PP1 duties.

However, if he’s put into a shutdown role and Tippett decides to run with Klefbom on the top unit then don’t expect more than 30-35 points from Nurse, mostly coming at even strength.

The good news is that the peripherals will be there regardless of power-play time.  In points only leagues he could fall in your draft due to the poor play of the Oilers and the question marks around deployment. 

He’s not someone you necessarily want as your first or second defensemen because of the deployment risk. But Nurse could turn out to be an absolute steal if he’s still there as your third or fourth defensive selection (points only leagues with a standard 10-12 teams). 

In a case like that your league has likely failed to calculate the potential upside and you would be able to select him with confidence and a floor around 30 points.