Coming into the offseason, the Edmonton Oilers knew it was no secret which aspect of their team needed the most work, in terms of personnel. Already with a strong offensive core, they needed to address the blue line. They did so, both in free agency, and through the draft.
The Oilers signed veteran defenseman Andrew Ference, who offers up a pretty significant upgrade compared to what the Oilers had previously employed on defense. As far as the draft goes, they selected d-man Darnell Nurse with the seventh overall pick, giving them a young blue liner with massive upside.
Nurse’s future with the Oilers is unclear at this point. Whether or not he’ll remain with his junior club or get a shot to join the Oilers right away is the question. At this point, the former seems like the more likely route that the Oilers are go, but we don’t know what could happen over the course of rookie & training camp, in addition to early season game action.
There’s little doubt that Nurse has the skill set to be a very successful player for the Oilers. Many have likened him to a Chris Pronger type defenseman. He’s a big body on the blue line, and plays with a physical edge. Not only that, he’s excellent in his own end, and is quite good in the offensive end. He’s the total package, and a potential no. 1 defenseman.
Which is why the Oilers should strongly consider giving him a shot at cracking the roster this season. They’ll be able to afford him at least an early opportunity to showcase what he can do, and whether or not he’ll need another year of seasoning at the junior level. And they should absolutely take advantage of that.
Edmonton should come into this preseason with an open mind regarding their young defenseman. Give him a shot at proving that he can hang at this level, and give him the maximum amount of games during the regular season before burning a year of his contract. If he proves he belongs, keep him up and allow him to make an impact. If not, then send him back to junior for that extra year of development.
Either one presents benefits for the Oilers, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll come into the preseason with a close minded view of what to do with him. He’ll get his shot to prove he belongs. He’s too talented to not receive at least that over the next several weeks.