Already without defensemen Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba and Mark Fayne, the Edmonton Oilers suffered another blow on the back end as sophomore Darnell Nurse is out up to 12 weeks after ankle surgery.
If the Edmonton Oilers weren’t already looking for some help to mend their banged-up blueline, they may want to start after news came Monday that Darnell Nurse could be sidelined for much of what’s left of the regular season.
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli announced Monday that Nurse, 21, underwent surgery to repair damage to the ligaments and bone around his right ankle and the expected timeline for return for the sophomore defenseman could be as much as 12 weeks. If it does take Nurse the maximum amount of expected recovery time, a three-month timeline for return would put him on pace to get back into action come mid-March, meaning there would only be roughly four weeks remaining in the campaign.
Losing Nurse for even a month would have been a bad break for the Oilers, but that he’ll be down for nearly three is going to be hard for the team to handle. While his ice time is down significantly in his second season in the league, Nurse has the skating and defensive ability to play on either the second or third pairing, when needed, and that versatility was a major asset for Oilers coach Todd McLellan. Nurse had been used as a top-minute defender, skating at or around 20 minutes on several occasions, as well as slotting in down the lineup as a third-pairing shutdown guy.
But Nurse hitting the shelf goes even beyond his usefulness, and potential, as a versatile defender as his injury is only the latest — and by the worst — in what has been a long line of injuries on the backend for the Oilers this season.
Nurse’s expected absence of roughly 12 weeks is the lengthiest timeline for return, but defensemen Brandon Davidson, Eric Gryba and Mark Fayne also find themselves on the injured reserve. Davidson hasn’t played since the first game of the campaign, Gryba has been shelved for nearly two weeks and Fayne is about to start week two on the shelf. Luckily, both Davidson and Gryba are reportedly nearing their respective returns.
Even with two defenders potentially on their way to getting healthy, though, there’s reason to wonder if the Oilers would look into a way to solidify their back end as the season wears on and the second half of the schedule starts to appear on the horizon. The Oilers’ goals against per game increased from 2.53 in the first 15 games of the campaign to 2.81 over the course of their past 16. That’s 12th-worst in the league over the past month and not a trend the Oilers want to continue. Being without Nurse isn’t about to help stop the increased goals against numbers, either.
The Oilers could very well use this time right now to stand pat and see what they can get out of youngster Dillon Simpson on the back end, though. He saw nearly 14 minutes in Sunday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets — his highest ice time in his three games with the big club — and Simpson could be a stop-gap, seventh-defenseman option for the Oilers as the blueline gets healthy.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.