The Edmonton Oilers made official what Jason Gregor of TSN reported earlier Friday: Darnell Nurse is headed to injured reserve. Gregor noted that the defenseman is expected to miss a few weeks. Ryan Rishaug of TSN adds that it “sounds like a broken finger” for Nurse. The team also moved Slater Koekkoek to injured reserve, leaving the defense corps quite banged up. To replace them, Philip Broberg and William Lagesson have been recalled from the AHL. In a cap move, Mike Smith is now on long-term injured reserve.
While Koekkoek’s exit from Thursday night’s game was obvious, as he played just over three minutes, Nurse logged more than 31 in the win against the Winnipeg Jets. The team’s obvious No. 1, that’s already the sixth time this season that Nurse has recorded at least 27 minutes of ice time. An all-situations workhorse for the team, he had 11 points in his first 16 games and was showing that last season’s breakout was not a flash in the pan.
The Oilers rewarded Nurse with a huge eight-year, $74M contract extension after his outstanding 2020-21 season, which saw him finish seventh in Norris Trophy voting after scoring 16 goals and 36 points in 56 games. Losing him now, right as the team appears to be taking the next step, is an absolute crushing blow to the group. Edmonton has won seven of its last 10 games and sits alone in first place in the Pacific Division with a 12-4 record overall.
Now, not only will the team have to find someone to take those minutes, but it can’t even be Koekkoek moving up. Instead, it looks like Broberg, one of the team’s top prospects, may get his first chance at the NHL level. Drafted eighth overall in 2019, the 20-year-old defenseman can skate like the wind and has the size to compete at the NHL level, but some have critiqued his decision-making in the past. Those decisions will be even more important as he moves to the NHL after just 13 games in the minor leagues. Broberg had 10 points in those games with Bakersfield after spending the last two seasons in the SHL.
After Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers are set to hit the road for three matches next week. They aren’t in a particularly heavy part of the schedule though with a three-day break after that road trip ends next Saturday, meaning they at least will be able to ease Broberg into the lineup with sufficient practice days. Still, it seems very unlikely that he or any other player on the roster will be able to have the impact that Nurse does, meaning the Oilers will have to find another way to lock down the defensive side of the puck over the next few weeks.