2) Darnell Nurse
Time sure flies when one realizes that it has been over a decade since the Oilers selected Darnell Nurse with their first round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Since then he has developed into one of the key anchors in the Oilers’ back end over the past few years, while becoming an alternate captain for the team in the process. Averaging close to 40 points per season in his previous five years with the team, he is certainly a force to be reckoned with offensively as well on top of his defensive game.
With 245 points in total in his career, it puts Nurse fourth on the Oilers’ all-time list for points by a defenceman, trailing only Charlie Huddy, Kevin Lowe, and of course, the legendary Paul Coffey. Which was why it seemed like a no-brainer at the time when the team re-signed him to a big eight-year, $74 million contract extension in 2021.
However, Nurse has been snake-bitten quite a bit so far during the 2023-24 season, as he has put up only five goals and five assists for 10 total points through 31 games played. Even with the Oilers’ recent offensive outbreak, he has managed only two points (both goals) for the entire month of December. Right now, he is on pace to finish with less than 30 points on the season for the first time since 2017-18.
Perhaps being a top-pairing defenceman and playing against the opposing team’s best players has had somewhat of an impact on Nurse's current offensive numbers, but he has excelled in the past despite facing such situations. The Oilers cannot just rely on Evan Bouchard to carry the offensive output from the back end all season. As a result, Nurse will need to turn it up a notch in 2024 to provide the additional offensive threat from the back end to keep opponents on their toes when defending.