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Nurse, Draisaitl aim to be full-time Oilers this season

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Defenseman Darnell Nurse and center Leon Draisaitl were on the Edmonton Oilers' roster at the start of the 2014-15 NHL season. However, each finished the season with his respective junior team.

Heading into 2015-16, Nurse and Draisaitl are looking to build on their brief NHL stints and parlay their experience into extended stays with the Oilers.

"I think I have grown a lot since last October," Nurse said at the Oilers' development camp. "I just want to put myself in a good position to make the team. I know what I can achieve over the rest of the summer and that I can come into training camp in good shape and be real confident in what I'll be able to do."

Nurse, 20, was selected by the Oilers with the seventh pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. He played two games in Edmonton last season before returning to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. In 64 games with the Greyhounds, Nurse had 13 goals and 50 points. He also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

All in all, Nurse said, last season was a big help to his development.

"Last year was a good year, there was a lot of growth, I grew a lot as a player," Nurse said. "My game is coming along. Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement; there always is. But I'm confident in what I'm able to do at this point and want to continue to build on that."

The Oilers expect Nurse to be an integral member of their blue line in the near future. Whether he is able to make the team out of training camp this season remains to be seen.

Edmonton is a much different team going into the upcoming season. Winning the NHL Draft Lottery and selecting center Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick changed the franchise. Along with the lottery win came a change in management and coaching.

"The big changes are really exciting," Nurse said. "For me, though, I'm more worried about putting myself in a position to make the team. But it's always exciting when you see the excitement in the organization and everyone is real bright and really looking forward to the season coming up."

Draisaitl, 19, is also excited about the upcoming season as he works to get onto the Oilers' roster for keeps. The third player taken in the 2014 NHL Draft played 37 games with the Oilers last season before being sent to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

In 32 regular-season games with the Rockets, Draisaitl scored 19 goals and finished with 53 points. He added 10 goals and 28 points in 19 playoff games when the Rockets won the WHL championship and qualified for the Memorial Cup. Draisaitl was named WHL playoff MVP and Memorial Cup MVP, although the Rockets lost to the Oshawa Generals in the championship game.

"The Memorial Cup was a great experience," Draisaitl said. "It's a big hockey stage, and we came really close. Obviously, we fell short, but at the same time, it was exciting, it was an exciting tournament and it helped me a lot."

Draisaitl is looking to spend the entire season with the Oilers. However, he will face stiff competition for a job, not only with the addition of McDavid, but also the emergence of Anton Lander and the signing of free agent Mark Letestu.

The Oilers' depth at center could force Draisaitl to move to left wing. He doesn't mind.

"I would be totally fine with that," Draisaitl said. "I've played the wing before and I know how to play the wing. For me, it wouldn't really matter. As long as I'm on the team, for me, everything works."

Starting on the wing could be an easier transition back into the NHL for Draisaitl, who at times last season looked overmatched in the middle against experienced centers.

"I think it's easier to switch from center to wing than from wing to center," Draisaitl said. "I think you have a little more responsibility as a centerman. A lot of times you're the guy working down low with the defensemen and that, obviously, takes work. You don't have that responsibility as a winger, although you have to work hard as winger as well. It's a different role, but I know how to play both sides and that's a good thing to have. It's definitely a little different game, but I know that I could play both."

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