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Hello Nation,

So we’re right in the middle of the summer, which can be looked at from two perspectives. Negative spin: it’s probably the dullest time to be a hockey fan. Positive spin: the 2019-20 season is closer than it was yesterday. So, as we continue to eat up the summer days with any content we can, we too continue with a look back at the not-so-lovely 2018-19 season. Today we’re taking a look at a player who should factor in strongly with the Oilers’ 2019-20 d-corps: Darnell Nurse.

GP G A P TOI/GM +/- Hits Blocks Giveaways Takeaways
82 10 31 41 23:49 -5 162 146 73 30

This past season was Nurse’s fourth one as a full-time NHL defenseman, and second consecutive one in which he played in all 82 games. He took a huge step forward, increasing his point output by 15 points and scoring 10 goals on a team that was starved for them, and finished only 10 seconds behind Oscar Klefbom from leading the team in TOI/GM. He was a factor on both special teams units, with a good amount of time on the powerplay (151:16mins; 6th on the team), scoring 1 goal and 9 points, while playing a lot on a penalty kill unit (157:44; 2nd on the team) that struggled mightily and finished 30th overall in the league.

But, as always, traditional stats only tell a part of the the story, so let’s take a deeper look into the counts to see how Nurse’s best statistical season looks under the microscope:

(All counts at Even Strength)

ES TOI: 1643:52

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start%
46.85 48.13 47.36 279/342 44.93 48/49 49.48 10.27 .904 1.006 40.88

Good-but-not great numbers. Corsi For and Scoring Chances For are all right in the middle of the “average” range, with Goals For creeping up to the black, but a sustainable on-ice shooting percentage indicates that goal scoring didn’t remain in the red because of bad luck.

But these are all relative.

CF%Rel GF%Rel SCF%Rel HDCF%Rel HDGF%Rel
-2.18 3.52 -1.57 -3.74 6.63

Hmm. Well, the Corsi and Scoring Chances aren’t pretty but the goal-scoring is, which ultimately is what matters. The on-ice shooting percentage is more reflective here, indicating that this sort of scoring rate with Nurse playing is sustainable and can even be relied upon to produce at this clip.

But as we well know a hockey player, particularly a defenseman, is only as good as the guy he plays with the most. So let’s take a look at Nurse’s most frequent partners:

(Again, all counts at Even Strength)

w/ Kris Russell

ES TOI Together: 1079:52

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
45.37 50.60 46.59 175/212 45.22 25/27 48.08 8.94 .925 1.015

w/o Russell (564:00 ES mins)

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
49.57 45.45 48.65 104/130 44.44 23/22 51.11 12.5 .866 0.991

I last wrote about Kris Russell, and so also covered the egregious amount of even strength time this pair played together. There is a lot of consternation amongst Oilers fans about these two playing so much together, with some under the impression that Russell is holding Nurse back from his full potential. The Corsi number is what becomes the focus for many, as Nurse is almost five points higher away from Russell. But, when it comes to the Corsi number with Russell, it’s a little misleading. Russell blocks a tonne of shots, which is one of the registering factors with a Corsi count, and so that number will look worse than the on-ice results show. Yes, the High Danger chances are not great, but it’s the goals-for and goalie save percentages that might tell the true story: there just aren’t as many goals scored with these two together as one might believe. Yes, the Corsi count increases by five points for Nurse when he’s away from Russell, but the goals-for percentage drops by five points when Nurse is away from his most common partner. Which number is really more important? And like I wrote in the Russell piece, I don’t think it’s a coincidence this pairing stuck together through both McLellan and Hitchcock though last season. Sure, there may not have been better options, but has anyone actually asked Nurse whenever or not he believes Russell is a bad partner…?

w/ Adam Larsson

ES TOI Together: 283:04

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
47.77 37.50 44.23 48/74 39.34 9/12 42.86 8.76 .873 .961

Quite a significant amount of time together. Larsson was without his regular partner Oscar Klefbom for twenty games in 2018-19, so he saw some action with other players for a bit. It seems to be a common belief that these two played decent together, but without a significant jump in Corsi percentage and significant drops in High Danger Corsi, Goals For and On-Ice Save percentages actually show that this pairing struggled on both ends of the ice together. Probably not a good idea to break up Klefbom-Larsson and Nurse-Russell and put these two together.

w/ Matthew Benning

ES TOI Together: 147:34

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
48.95 55.00 50.34 23/25 47.92 7/5 58.33 14.47 .898 1.042

The last of three players Nurse partnered with for a significant amount of time (in fact, he didn’t play anywhere close to an hour with anyone else for more than an hour). Not bad offensive numbers at all, actually. The goalies suffered a bit, but the puck while the puck might not as moved as often up the ice as it did down it, and while the goals might have been a result of a slightly unsustainable shooting percentage, the scoring chances for there more frequent than they were against, which reflects some offensive chemistry together.

Final Thought

Nurse will be 25 years-old by the end of the 2019-20 season, and is likely headed for a big payday. The hope and belief is that be is, and will continue to be, a keystone in the foundation of the Oilers’ core as it continues to grow and mature. The word that will unfortunately surround Nurse throughout this upcoming season and into next the offseason will be “worth.” Is Nurse “worth” what will most likely be a $6mil+ can hit? Will he be “worth” a five, six, seven year contract? Will he be “worth” the commitment and the cost? The truth is, answer isn’t really clear. He took a step forward last year will a little more responsibility, and can he take another? He’s still in his mid-twenties, and unlike forwards, defensemen still tend to begin to reach their potential around this age. So, if he scratches the 50-point mark then the Oilers would be misguided in not trying to lock him up through his prime years. I don’t think another 10-point leap can be discounted.

Nurse has the frame of an top NHL defenseman, he has the snarl and aggression of a tough player and the offensive instincts to be a difference-maker. This is an important year for the Oilers, but for his particular Oiler, it most surely will be the most important in his young career.

Traditional Stats courtesy of nhl.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Advanced Counts courtesy of naturalstattrick.com                                                                                                                                                                                              Salary Cap info courtesy of puckpedia.com


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