Is Darnell Nurse the next Chris Pronger?
To say that Darnell Nurse grew up in an athletic family would be a supreme understatement. His father, Richard, played multiple seasons in the Canadian Football League. His sister, Kia, plays basketball for the University of Connecticut, the most notable women’s college basketball program in the United States. He is even ex-NFL star Donovan McNabb’s nephew. As a child, Nurse could have played any sport. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario he chose to focus on hockey from a young age.
After playing bantam and midget hockey for the Don Mills Flyers in Toronto, he was selected by the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds with the third overall pick of the 2011 OHL Priority Draft. Following a modest first season with the Greyhounds, Nurse broke out with a solid second season in Sault Ste. Marie. Acting as one of the teams alternate captains, he compiled 41 points in 68 games and added 114 penalty minutes.
Following his strong season, Nurse was considered the second best blue-line prospect in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft behind the Portland Winterhawks Seth Jones. After Jones was taken fourth overall by Nashville, Nurse was passed over by Carolina and Calgary before being selected seventh overall by Edmonton. The Oilers had selected first overall the three years prior, drafting all forwards. The young defenseman was a welcome addition to an Edmonton prospect pool that badly needed to replenish the position. Continuing his offensive development in the season following being drafted, Nurse saw his numbers rise to 50 points in 64 games.
Nurse began the 2014-15 season in Edmonton, playing two games before being returned to his OHL club for the full season. Acting as the Greyhounds captain for the second straight season, Nurse proved that he had accomplished all he could at the junior level. After being a part of Canada’s 2015 World Junior Championship team, and following an injury that hampered him in February, Nurse returned to the Greyhounds for their final playoff push. Eventually losing out to Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters in the OHL playoffs, the young defenseman moved on to the AHL. Making his debut playing four games for Oklahoma City and compiling four assists, Nurse ended his season on a high note, proviing he could play at the highest level.
Although he did not make the Oilers out of camp this season, it was widely expected that he would not remain with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors for too long. After Justin Schultz went down with a back injury, Nurse was called up and inserted into Edmonton’s lineup. Playing alongside Andrej Sekera on the Oilers top line, Nurse’s eight game stint has been successful thus far. In his first game after being recalled, he scored his first NHL goal against Minnesota, and has added three assists since. He has also been strong in non-scoring categories, adding 17 hits, 11 shots, and 11 blocks in his eight game this season.
From a scouting perspective, Nurse grades out as an above-average defenseman in his own end with the potential to become a valuable two-way player. He is terrific in one-on-one situations and is not afraid to lay the body in order to separate opposing players from the puck. Darnell thinks the game well from an offensive perspective and uses his athleticism as an asset in the neutral and offensive zones. His offensive ability has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few seasons of junior, and could turn into an incredible asset down the road should it continue to develop in the NHL. He has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman in the foreseeable future for the Oilers, who lack young, elite, blue-line talent.
Fantasy Potential: Nurse has drawn comparisons to NHL defensemen such as Chris Pronger and Dion Phaneuf due to his style of play and immense potential. He has the ability to be a valuable fantasy asset due to his multi-category ability. Likely a player that will rack up not only points, but penalty minutes, hits, and blocks, Nurse is a rare-breed among fantasy defensemen in today’s NHL.
Dobber Prospect Rank: 7th ranked defensive prospect in DobberHockey’s Top 215
Fantasy Outlook: B+
Pros: Size, Reach, Strength, Competitiveness, Nasty Streak, Defensive zone play
Cons: Continuing to develop offensively
Anticipated NHL Arrival: Nurse was disappointed not to make Edmonton’s opening night roster out of camp, but has stepped up and filled in on the Oilers top pairing with Justin Schultz injured. If his play continues at this level, he will likely be in the NHL to stay.
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