Stop overthinking this Darnell Nurse should be in the Oilers lineup.

Early reports from the Oilers first two games have the Oilers showing improvement in many areas of the game. Justin Schultz is finally starting to look like an all-around NHL defender. Talbot has provided more than capable goaltending. But my grievances lie with a lack of team willingness to mix things up in the dirty areas. The Oilers are just never the aggressors.

Merely two games into the season and there are already numerous examples of the Oilers getting punked and bullied by their competition. Be it Troy Brouwer cross-checking Matt Hendricks from behind all the way down the ice, or Paul Gaustad throwing his big frame around at our smaller forwards, the Oilers have found themselves being victimized.

Now I will give credit to Eric Gryba for sticking up for his teammates and fighting after an aggressive hit. However I don’t view the problem as a fighting issue as much as I view it as a team meanness issue. It seems near every game, that the other team takes liberties with out stars, where as the Oilers neglect to return the favor. Is it to much to ask for the Oilers to be the aggressors for a change as opposed to the victims.

It’s well documented the Oilers struggles with toughness in all areas of the game. One would just have to look here, here, or here to see that. A player like Gryba is a start but nothing that the Oilers haven’t had in the past. I’m not trying to take the easy way out here and say that a tough player will solve all the Oilers problems, they have tried that in the past with players such as Mark Fraser, and Ben Eager. What they have lacked however is a high skilled, impact player who genuinely enjoys roughing it, and plays a physical brand of hockey. I’m talking a nasty yet talented player along the lines of Corey Perry, or Chris Pronger.

Insert Darnell Nurse.

On skill and talent alone there is no way that you could leave Darnell Nurse outside your top 6 in Edmonton. He skates unbelievably well for a big man, so well in fact that we could simply say that he skates well and leave out the backhanded modifier. He can shoot and stickhandle with the best of them, and log big minutes much like he did as Captain of the Soo Greyhounds. But above all else he is vicious in front of the net, and plays with one hell of a mean streak.

Here is an excerpt from his page:

Owns a huge frame and plenty of nastiness to his rock-solid defensive game. Is naturally athletic and displays plenty of shutdown potential. Is also a willing pugilist if need be. Skates very well.

Detractors will cite Nurse’s lack of NHL caliber decision making, as a reason why he’s not ready. Is it that much worse than the lapse of judgement showed by Andrew Ference against Nashville where he made an egregious turnover behind the net leading to a goal. Which he followed immediately with a penalty, all at a crucial point of the game. The Oilers already struggle with the occasional lapse in judgement. Most of our goals allowed so far have come off of such lapses. Why then not, ice a player with enough skill to either make up for his mistakes, or at least be good enough for us to tolerate the occasional miscue. Especially considering, said player comes with the exact intangibles the Oilers lack, and have lacked for years now.

We could argue all day about how the Oilers don’t have room for him currently, but the way I see it is that if he’s good enough we need to make room. Whether that entails swallowing some of the contract of Ference in order to ship him out, or exposing Brandon Davidson to waivers.

What fan isn’t sick of the Oilers getting bullied by opponents and generally being an easy team to play against. An offensive weapon from the blue-line who also happens to be a terror in front of his own net could go a long way towards that problem. I salivate at the thought or Nurse protecting the front of the night a la Chris Pronger. When teams come to Edmonton they should not only fear our weapons up front, but also the rough and tumble game that the Oilers are willing to play.

A Note on the Pipeline

It would feel incomplete to me if I didn’t mention some of the lesser known prospects who excel at the more Blue Collar aspects of the game. Jujhar Khaira, Greg Chase, and Mitch Moroz all come to mind as agitating, physical players in the Oilers system. The hope is that one or two of them might one day crack the big club to complement our finesse players on offence. The fact remains however that outside of Nurse and to a lesser extent Yakupov the top end talent lacks an agitating, mean, and tough game, played by many in the Western conference.

To bring it all together, Chiarelli has frequently said that he wants to build a heavy team like the one he built in Boston. Boston also had more than its fair share of mean players, a quality that is visibly lacking in the Oilers lineup. By my assessment the only NHL caliber player in the entire organization who has such an element to his game is none other @Drtwofive. He’s got the talent, and the intangibles, and the Oilers have the need. It doesn’t have to be this complicated.

Call him up.