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Nurse and Reinhart focused on competition

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

LEDUC, AB - Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart are likely to spend the better part of the next 10-plus days battling for a spot on the Oilers blueline. It’s not just between them, of course, but they’re two of the younger, high-profile defencemen locked in a camp competition.

“No matter who you’re competing against, you’ve got to play well,” said Nurse. “You’ve got to help out your partner. The biggest thing that shows the type of player you are is how you play for your teammates and the guys who stand beside you, no matter who it is. Obviously, there’s going to be competition in training camp but we’re both pushing each other. Someone’s going to earn a spot.”

Photo by Andy Devlin

Nurse, the seventh-overall pick in 2013, is as exciting a defensive prospects come in the Oilers system. Big, mean, can make plays offensively — he’s what the organization is looking for. But the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Nurse is also 20 years old, and has to prove he’s fully ready to make the jump to the National Hockey League. He has just 10 games of professional experience — eight AHL, including four in the playoffs, and two NHL games.

Reinhart, 21, has a similar mission. At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, Reinhart has the size and he has the background. The Memorial Cup-winning captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings was taken fourth overall in 2012. The Oilers saw fit to send a first-round pick and a second-round pick to the Islanders for him. He played in eight regular season NHL games, and one post-season game for New York. He also played in 59 AHL games.

When Reinhart got the news the Oilers traded for him, he realized the opportunity that exists in Edmonton.

“I was pretty excited when I heard the news,” said Reinhart. “I didn’t look at it and think ‘wow, there’s a spot. I’ve got a spot on the team already.’ I looked at it as a challenge. There’s a lot of defencemen fighting for spots on this team. I look at this as an opportunity that I have to take advantage of and nothing is going to be given to me.”

Being in the mix with a prospect like Nurse is quite the challenge for Reinhart.

“He’s a good player. You see that with every team. They’ve always got prospects battling for spots and certain players who want to take each other’s jobs,” said Reinhart. “I think the guys do a good job of keeping it a friendly competition. We’re all still pushing each other.”

The competition will begin to heat up more as camp continues. It’s far too early for the coaching staff to make judgements on players, especially Nurse and Reinhart.

Photo by Andy Devlin

“It’s really early. It’s tough for us to evaluate, the young guys in particular,” said McLellan. “We have a bit of a knowledge base with veteran NHL players because we get to see them play all the time. The young ones that have played in the American League, it’s going to take us a little longer to figure them out and maybe them us as well. Way too early to start to put thresholds on individuals at this point.”

So, in the meantime, Nurse and Reinhart will continue to try and make their best impressions on the coaching staff.

“Just showing I can play a certain game and play a smart game. Not try and do too much, but jump up in the play a few times. I have to prove I can shutdown another team’s forwards,” said Reinhart.

Outside of the occasional camp scrimmage, there are not many chances to evaluate the defencemen in game-like scenarios at training camp. For a player like Nurse, his best attributes may have to wait until the pre-season schedule begins on Monday against Calgary.

“A big part of my game is battling, getting in corners and winning battles. That’s a lot more in games. With that being said, you’ve got to go out every day and work hard. You’ve got to impress in those game sessions as well,” said Nurse.

He admits to having to dial back the intensity and physicality when going against teammates in drills and scrimmages at camp.

It’s a waiting game for Nurse, Reinhart and the rest of the Oilers players and prospects locked in camp battles. The competition really heats up once the games come.

For now, it’s just a matter of competing as best they can and hoping that translates to success and an NHL job.

“Competition makes everyone better,” said Nurse. “There’s no exception here.”

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