Edmonton Oilers Darnell Nurse’s Journey to the NHL


There was a lot to like about Nurse back at the draft: he was big at 6’4” and 200 lbs, was a good skater who could jump into the rush, and he had a nasty side. Most were sure Nurse would make the jump to the NHL soon.

But in a surprise twist the Oilers were actually going to be patient with a prospect and develop him properly. This meant that Nurse would play two more years in the OHL and get a chance to represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

The WJHC was held in Toronto and Montreal and Canada were the favourites to win gold. The team had Connor McDavid, Max Domi, and Anthony Duclair up front and one returning defenseman Josh Morrissey. Nurse would start out in a shutdown defenseman role. But as the tournament went on he would get more and more ice time and he was able to show his athletic skills. But I will always remember Nurse for his battle in the gold medal game against Nikolai Dergachyov.

For 20 seconds, these two large teenagers clashed behind the net for the puck and Nurse won the battle. That was the moment most analysists realized how good this young man was going to be. Canada ultimately walked away with gold and Nurse was able to develop and compete with the world’s elite.

Back in 2013, the Edmonton Oilers held the seventh-overall pick at the entry draft. Craig MacTavish was the newly appointed General Manager, and he had promised to the fans and the media he was going to be making BOLD moves.


What some fans may have forgotten about was that at the 2013 Draft, MacTavish was pushing hard to trade for Cory Schneider. This was at the time the Canucks had Schneider and Roberto Luongo battling to be the number one goalie. Everyone was certain that it was Luongo that was going to be traded. But after GM Mike Gillis couldn’t find a good deal for Luongo he began to shop Schneider. There were rumors that the Oilers and Flames both had packages together for Schneider but neither were accepted.

MacTavish went and drafted Darnell Nurse from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with the 7th overall pick. Gillis was hesitant to trade Schneider within the division and decided to trade him to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall pick in 2013. 

MacTavish was dumbfounded after the trade was announced because the Oilers had reportedly offered the 7th overall and a high-end prospect to the Canucks.

Fast forward to the OHL playoffs where he faced off against his WJHC teammate Connor McDavid. Nurse was tasked with shutting down Connor McDavid who was most prolific scorer in the league that year.

I did manage to watch those playoff games on tv and it was exciting to watch the two future oilers stars play. I have never witnessed two players go back and forth up the ice against either as much as McDavid and Nurse did.

Almost every time you saw McDavid on the ice Nurse was right beside him taking away time and space. The Otters eventually won the series in 6 games. You could see the Otters did not have much left in the tank after the series. In the next round the Otters would lose to the eventual Memorial Cup winners Oshawa Generals. The Otters were better on paper but the damage was inflicted by Nurse and the Greyhounds.

After the WJHC and the OHL playoffs people began to see the monster that Nurse will eventually grow into. The beginning of this season Nurse was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors. This was to develop Nurse as a professional hockey player. He was only there for 6 games due to the amount of injuries plaguing the Oilers early on in the season.

Nurse was thrown in the deep end if you will to see if he would sink or swim and so far in his NHL career he has been able to swim. Some games Nurse seems to barely be able to tread water.

But as a 21 year old rookie defenseman this bound to happen because the learning curve and quality of competition are so much higher. Nurse has passed my expectations of him this season by miles and has had more good games than bad ones. He has added much needed size and grit for the Oilers defensive core especially after Eric Gryba’s injury.

Nurse stands up for his team mates which was the case when he fought Roman Polak. Polak was accused of hitting Matt Hendricks behind into the boards. Replays showed that Polak did not actually hit Hendricks and Hendricks had caught an edge and fell into the boards. Nurse confronted Polak a few shifts later and before Polak could drop his gloves Nurse started to lay a beating on Polak. Polak had to leave after to get repairs on his face and a new jersey.

Nurse’s handling of Polak was not the best course of action that he could have taken. But none the less he stood up for a team mate and showed that the Oilers will not be pushed around anymore. The NHL gave Nurse a 3 game suspension and he took it in stride like a professional and said he would learn from his mistake.

Well March 24th was the rematch and the San Jose Sharks recalled Micheal Haley to exact revenge against Nurse. Todd McLellan dressed their fighter Luke Gazdic in case Nurse needed protection but Nurse took it upon himself to fight Haley. This was a huge statement by Nurse as he held his own against the more experienced Haley and stood up for himself. A lot of rookies would have deferred the fight to Gazdic but Nurse stepped up to the challenge and fought his own battle.

Darnell Nurse is from an athletic family. His father played in the CFL and his mother Cathy was a university basketball player. Also, his uncle is Donovan McNabb, who played football in the NFL. Darnell is an elite athlete, as are his sisters. Tamika Nurse played for NCAA Women’s Basketball Bowling Green University, and Kia plays for NCAA Women’s Basketball with the UCONN Huskies and also plays for the National Canadian Women’s Team. These bloodlines and the high level of competitiveness almost assure Darnell will get better in the seasons to come.

Nurse has grown by leaps and bounds this year so far and I do not see a reason for that trend not to continue on next year. I know there is a log jam on the left side of the Oilers defense but Peter Chiarelli should have the name Nurse written down in pen for years to come.

Next: Edmonton Oilers: Oliver Ekman-Larsson Rumor Shut Down

Not often do you find a 6’4” defenseman that has the ability to lead the rush, break up cycles, and play dirty when needed. Oilers fans should remember that type of player around here once before in Chris Pronger. Not saying Nurse will 100% for sure become Pronger but Nurse does possess many of the same skills Pronger had as a rookie.