The Edmonton Oilers will start the year without one of their top defencemen in Andrej Sekera. However, the team has considerable depth on their blue line to cope without him to start the year.
With Sekera’s injury comes a chance for Edmonton’s bottom-pairing blueliners to make a move up to the top four. Kris Russell will remain on the second pairing, expected to fill Sekera’s void with his experience and shot-blocking ability. This leaves one spot up for grabs on the bottom pairing.
Considering Russell is versatile in the fact that he can play on either side, Oilers defencemen Darnell NUrse and Matthew Benning could both make a run for a promotion to the top four. However, between the two of them, who is more likely to move up while Sekera recovers?
First off, let’s look at what both Nurse and Benning bring to the table. Though their styles are different, both defenders are beneficial to the Oilers’ lineup.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Nurse brings a lot of size and physicality to the table and is more of a stay-at-home defender. He had 107 hits and 53 blocks in his shortened 44 game campaign last season and was one of the most aggressive players on the ice. Not only that, he takes good care of the puck and doesn’t turn it over often. While he isn’t much of a scorer, Nurse does have a bullet of a point shot and can make smart plays.
Benning, on the other hand, has shown his worth as more of a puck-mover and isn’t afraid to jump up on the rush. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he also brings physicality to the table and had 111 hits through 62 games this past year. However, he needs to work on taking care of the puck, as he had seven takeaways for 49 giveaways this year.
Who Moves Up?
When it comes to choosing between the two of these defenders to work with Russell on the second pairing, Benning would likely win the battle. He may not be as big as Nurse, but he brings just as much physicality and is very good in his own zone.
While he needs to work on taking better care of the puck, he is able to start the rush from his own zone and make smart breakout passes. Not only that, he possesses a heavy shot and is flourishing into a puck-mover who could eventually turn into a power-play quarterback.
Not only that, with Russell, Benning can add offensive acumen and puck-moving potential. A Nurse-Russell combination would have Russell playing on his off side, and also be more defensively focused. Considering the first pairing of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson is more of a shutdown pairing, Edmonton needs more offence throughout the d-corps.
However, there is no denying Nurse’s worth. He is a big, strong defender who continues to get better every year, and at 22 years old, he is still developing his game. However, for him to get more ice time, he does need more growth and still has a lot to prove before he can make the next step forward.