In 2013, the Oilers used their 7th overall pick to draft a tall, lanky, athletic defenseman with top four potential. After two more seasons of grooming in the OHL and 20+ lbs of added weight, Darnell Nurse has filled out into an all-around, physical two-way d-man who is the Oiler’s best bet of a future top pairing defenseman. What has been confirmed in these last two years is that Nurse has the size, skating, mobility, aggressiveness and smarts that make me believe he can become a top pairing defenseman. However, the eye test is only one way to evaluate a player. Another way is to find players who are comparable statistically.
CHL COMPARABLES FOR DARNELL NURSE
When comparing defenseman, I use an adjusted point formula which is based on the fact that power play production from juniors does not translate as well to the NHL as does non-power play production (even strength + shorthanded). Therefore, based on my research a power play point is worth only approximately 58% of that of an even strength or shorthanded point. In the case of Darnell Nurse, we will be using the following criteria to find comparable players:
- Drafted between 1998 and 2009
- 6’2 or taller
- Drafted in the top 20
- Played 2 more seasons in the CHL after being drafted
This criterion gives 14 players in which to compare against Nurse. If we apply the adjusted point total over an 82 game season, the results are:
ADJUSTED POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON)
ADJUSTED POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON +1)
ADJUSTED POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON +2)
ADJUSTED POINT TOTALS (COMBINED)
- Nurse ends up 2nd overall ahead of Phaneuf, Seabrook and Staal.
- Nurse finishes top 5 every season. Pietrangelo is the only other player to accomplish this.
- Nurse has shown a steady upward trend in point production going from 44 points in his draft season, to 51 points in the year after and up to 58 points in the 2014-2015 season. Seabrook (38,42,52) and Phaneuf (32,44,65) had similar upward trending stats.
SEPARATING OUT POWER PLAY POINTS IS IMPORTANT
While the adjusted point totals help reduce the effects of power play scoring, it is a good idea to compare defenseman based on just their non-power play production only. One has to remember with defenseman that there can be wild swings in their point totals depending on whether they receive power play ice time. Take for example Brayden Coburn who put up 0.41 P/G when we combine his 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 NHL seasons (64 points in 158 games) but since that time he has been a 0.23 P/G player (92 points in 402 games). Did Coburn offensive game dry up? Did he suddenly regress as a player just as he was hitting his prime years of his career? Or simply did he just stop receiving power play ice time? If we remove power play points from the equation, he put up 0.24 P/G (38 points in 158 games) in the 2008 and 2009 NHL seasons and has since put up 0.22 P/G (89 points in 402 games). Basically, Braydon Coburn has been putting up consistent non-power play numbers throughout his career and had a couple of career seasons due to receiving power play ice time. This type of scenario happens frequently with defenseman and is a large factor in why separating out power play scoring is so crucial when evaluating prospects. That is not to say that being a power play wizard is not important to a team and has value, however being able to move the puck forward and generate offensive during 5 on 5 is a much more important skill to possess. The non-power play point totals over an 82 game season are:
NON POWER PLAY POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON)
NON POWER PLAY POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON +1)
NON POWER PLAY POINT TOTALS (DRAFT SEASON +2)
NON POWER PLAY POINT TOTALS (COMBINED)
- When we remove power play scoring, Nurse ends up 2nd overall again behind Pietrangelo .
- Nurse finishes top 5 every season. Pietrangelo and Phaneuf are the two other players to accomplish this.
- 6 players were in the top 7 for adjusted point totals and non-power play point totals. One of them was Nurse, while the others were Pietrangelo, Phaneuf, Barker, Seabrook and Staal. The top 4 players on both lists are Pietrangelo, Nurse, Phaneuf and Barker.
Therefore, the former CHL players that are the best statistical comparables for Nurse are Pietrangelo, Phaneuf, Barker, Staal and Seabrook. Outside of Barker, any team would love to have any one of these players in their prime and Darnell Nurse could follow in the same footsteps. All five of these players made the jump to the NHL in their Draft Season +3 with Barker being the only player to split time between the NHL and AHL. Therefore, if these are the comparables for Nurse, what would be a reasonable expectation if he made the jump to the NHL next year? One item to consider is the fact that power play scoring has been on the decline since the overhaul of the rules for the 2005-2006 season. Therefore, I have taken the power play and non-power play scoring in each player’s NHL rookie season and adjusted them to the 2014-2015 scoring levels. The results over an 82 game season are:
Pietrangelo: 36 points (23 non-power play points)
Phaneuf: 35 points (17 non-power play points)
Seabrook: 31 points (20 non-power play points)
Barker: 14 points (5 non-power play points)
Staal: 11 points (11 non-power play points)
The defenseman that had the best rookie seasons are Pietrangelo, Phaneuf, Seabrook and all three of these defenseman have gone on to be top pairing defenseman. For Nurse, to continue on the same trajectory not only does he need to crack the Oilers roster but he needs to excel. An excellent season for Nurse and one that would make me believe he is the Oilers future franchise defenseman would be somewhere in the 25+ point range (15+ non-power play points). If Nurse cannot crack the lineup or struggles to put up points, I will need to re-evaluate his upside as it may be more similar to that of Marc Staal who is an excellent shutdown defenseman but lacks the all-around game to be considered a #1 defenseman. For now it is all in the hands of Darnell Nurse but I am bullish that despite the backlog of defenseman in the Oilers depth chart his skills will push players out of the way. For years the Oilers have not been able to draft and develop a star defenseman but just like everything else in the Oilers Nation the times they are a-changin’.