Monday, July 1, 2013

Nurse -- Look at the DNA to find an Edmonton prospect

By Larry Wigge

Darnell Nurse was relaxed, funny, and cordial, giving little hint that he is going to be a defenseman who will soon create havoc in NHL arenas with his rugged style of play.

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he is cool, calm and calculating. He also big, strong, tough, mean and physical.

And ...

As much as any pick in the draft the fact that the Edmonton Oilers chose Nurse with the seventh pick overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft made so much sense. 

The kind of player he is, the kind of player he will be and the team he went to the Oilers with all those young offensive stars -- Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov they have drafted in recent years.

The Oilers want to play fast ... 

"I really believe that this guy's going to have an incredible impact on our team," Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said. "He really gives us an element that I feel we're sorely lacking. He's a guy that over time is going to provide us with the toughness. And he's the guy that will ride shotgun for a lot of our first overall picks, our skilled players, for a lot of years."

The 18-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, is a prickly player who refuses to back down.

"I think I have a little bit of jam in my game," he said. "I've always had it. Like I said, it's better to give than receive. It creates a lot more room for yourself in the corners. Obviously with that said I'm going to get challenged based on the way I play, but I've never been scared to step up."

Nurse had 12 goals and 29 assists for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He also had six fights.

"I wish I could describe how excited I am, especially when you watch these guys on TV and see how gifted they are and how much of an impact they have," said Nurse. "For me this is a dream come true. I'm just going to work so that one day hopefully I have the opportunity to play alongside them."

But that's not the cool side of this selection. It a part genetic factor, a part bloodlines, a part DNA and pedigree.

These are all familiar ways to determine or predict ... which hockey players you might take a harder look at the annual NHL Draft. There's something to be said for growing up in a hockey environment -- in the dressing room of an NHL team and having the bloodlines of a famous father to help with the right words.

Defenseman Darnell Nurse also has impressive family ties -- from the gridiron and other athletic endeavors.

Richard Nurse, Darnell's father, played wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb is his uncle by marriage. Cathy, his mom, played basketball at McMaster University and his sisters, Tamika and Kia, are both skilled on the court. His aunt, Raquel, was a star point guard at Syracuse.

Darnell says his parents told him -- no football. 

"That was more my Dad," Nurse explained. "My Mom, too."

He sees the toll football took on his father.

"His hands are mangled, he can't move some of his fingers and he's got an elbow that doesn't move right," Nurse continued. "I looked at that and though those are battle wounds. Something maybe one day I get to show my kid."

For Nurse, who is 6-4 and weighs 185 pounds, plays hard and fast. Most of his controlled mayhem is ... 

"Not at all," he said. "I think the biggest thing for them is I can probably control a little more hitting people in hockey than in football where you get hit every play. Put me on the back end and I get to control what happens."

The competitive nature of the Nurse family works miracles each and every day -- at the gym or in schoolwork.

"Being surrounded by people who have been through a lot of different experiences whether it's representing your country or playing in the pros, it's a really competitive household," Darnell Nurse explained. "Everyone's always pushing to get the best out of you whether it's on the ice, off the ice, in your schoolwork. It doesn't get much better than being around the people I have in my family. My dad pushes me a lot. My mom and my sisters, they give it to me if I don't win. It's a great household."

Who's the most competitive? "I've got to be the most. They can't want it as bad as me. I can't give them that."

The fact that the Oilers, the City of Champions with so many Stanley Cup champions to them -- five in fact, but none since 1990 and the Oilers haven't been to the playoffs since 2006.

Now, perhaps Nurse is the pick that puts them over the top.

"Unbelievable," said Nurse. "Organizations like this, when you're a kid, you grow up dreaming of being a part of. I wish I could describe how excited I am. You watch these guys on TV and see how gifted they are, how much of an impact they have, this is a dream come true."

Nurse grew up idolizing the likes of Scott Stevens and Jarome Iginla. So it comes as no surprise that he likes being a prickly opponent.

"One of the best part of my game is being someone who's hard to play against," he said. "I think the fights kind of come with just battles, and people trying to challenge me after I challenge them. Something I'm not afraid to do but at the same time it's not something I go out and look for."

There is a soft side to Nurse. He learned to play the guitar when he was in Grade 9 ... and shortly thereafter the piano followed. He likes any kind of music, yes, even classical music.

On his uncle, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb ...

"He's someone who's been so influential in my life. He’s been there since I was real young," Nurse recalled. "As I've grown older and been placed into different situations and playing away from home, he's someone that I've talked to probably once or twice a week. No matter what the question is or no matter what I'm going through, he's always been available.

"If I can't get a hold of him at 10 o'clock in the morning, he'll call me back at 10:30. It's a relationship where we're always in touch and we always know what's going on in each other's lives. He's been someone that I've been real lucky to have."

On if he watched his uncle play as an Eagle.

"I used to come when I was younger once or twice a year," Nurse said. "I was able to get down and see him play and after the game in the locker room with some of his teammates. Those are experiences that you never forget and probably some of the most fond memories I have as a child."

On what McNabb has instilled in him.

"The biggest thing I've gotten advice on, not only from him but my parents and other people in my family, is the work that it takes," he admits. "It's easy to have talent. It's how hard that talent works that will make you successful. It's easy to sit back and say 'I'll just rely on my size or my ability to skate.' If you don't put in those extra hours of work, it will go to waste. That's the biggest thing, you have to come every day and give it all you have. If it's at the gym or on the ice, it's something you have to get better at on a daily basis."

Said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, "When you watch him play -- he's still a lot of elbows and knees, but he's a hard-nosed player. He can fight. He's pretty good with the puck, and he'll continue to get better."

Nurse figures that at his end goal of 210, 215 pounds, he'll have enough weight to throw around while being able to retain his quickness.

Nurse joked, "My Mom always has the fridge full, so it'll come."

He's always got a good bit of humor. Like when he took a shot at his uncle.

"He went higher than me, but I didn't get booed at my draft," Nurse said of his uncle Donavan being drafted second overall.

Said Nurse, "There's a lot of hard work ahead." 

Nurse said he hasn't been able to get McNabb onto the ice ... "Not quite -- anyway."

But McNabb has been there for Nurse.

"I've trained with him. He's a goal-oriented guy and he understands what's ahead of him," said McNabb. "What they're getting is a guy is someone who is ready to go ... and he's ready right now.

"It's about putting that extra time in. He wants to be the best out on the ice. Sidney Crosby and Alexandre Ovechkin -- they put in extra time. That's what makes them better ... and Darnell understands that." 

Where can you find Darnell Nurse the day after the draft?

"Back to work at the gym ... Hard work. That's what it takes."

Bloodlines. DNA. A genetical factor.

You don't have to look into Darnell Nurse's life to find a pedigree.

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