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Oilers Need Right-Side Defense Upgrade to Support Darnell Nurse

The Edmonton Oilers need a right-side defense upgrade to support Darnell Nurse. Nurse is making big money and Edmonton needs his best.

The Edmonton Oilers have made significant strides this offseason, but there’s still a glaring need on the right side of their defense. Specifically, the Oilers must find a suitable partner for defenseman Darnell Nurse, whose performance has been inconsistent, particularly when paired with Cody Ceci.

Related: Oilers’ Defense Core Needs an Upgrade: Offseason or Trade Deadline?

As Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic highlights, the addition of Josh Brown to replace Vincent Desharnais, who departed for Vancouver in free agency, arguably weakens the Oilers at their most vulnerable position. He notes, “This promises to be something that’s addressed before the 2025 trade deadline.” Meanwhile, Allan Mitchell writes, “The numbers show Nurse is better suited to playing with a puck-moving partner.”

So, what are the options?

Ceci and Nurse Are Probably Not the Option

Over the past three seasons, the Nurse-Ceci pairing has managed a 52 percent goal share and a 50.4 percent expected goal share at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. Despite these statistics, fans have grown weary of this pairing. It’s been proven that these two can play effectively together in spurts, but over the long haul, this is not a formula that breeds long-term success. That’s a problem considering Nurse’s hefty contract and the Oilers’ reliance on him.

Darnell Nurse Oilers

Nurse, who signed a hefty $9.25 million contract, has struggled to meet expectations. While some critics argue that Nurse should perform like a superstar given his contract, others believe his performance issues stem from the Oilers’ inability to find him an effective defensive partner.

Who Should the Oilers Play Nurse With?

Over the past three years, Nurse’s most frequent defensive partners have yielded mixed results. Mitchell points out that Nurse’s pairing with Evan Bouchard has been notably positive, making a strong case for the coaching staff to consider a Nurse-Bouchard duo for the upcoming season. That would split the wildly-effective pairing of Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm, but there is a solution to that problem.

Last summer, a potential pairing of Mattias Ekholm and Philip Broberg was proposed but did not materialize due to Ekholm’s pre-camp injury. Revisiting this pairing, along with Nurse-Bouchard, could solidify the Oilers’ top-four defense. Broberg, who made significant strides during last season’s playoffs, is believed to be ready for regular duty in 2024-25. He has also shown he can handle playing on the right side in limited minutes. A Nurse-Broberg pairing saw some success in the playoffs, albeit with some concerning underlying numbers.

If Broberg isn’t the answer, the Oilers must explore trade options or other moves to secure a more reliable partner for Nurse.

Is There a Trade Out There the Oilers Can Make?

While the Oilers have made some shrewd moves this offseason, addressing the right side of their defense remains crucial and not necessarily an easy thing to do. Good right-shot defensemen aren’t easy to find and when a team lands on one, they often don’t let them go. Edmonton signed Brown and Troy Stecher, but they may be little more than a stop-gap and certainly aren’t top-four ready to be Nurse’s partner. That means Edmonton might need to spend to get what they need.

Finding the right partner for Darnell Nurse could be the key to unlocking his full potential and strengthening the team’s defensive core heading into the next season.

Next: What’s Really Going On with the Oilers and Evander Kane?

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