When assessing top defensemen available in the 2013 NHL Draft, most consider Seth Jones, an NHL-ready player, to be in a class of his own. Darnell Nurse, one of a few in a still rather talented second tier, might be rawer, but he has the makings of a future shutdown defenseman.
Just look at him.
Nurse is a 6-foot-4 Canadian-born blueliner. Weighing in at 185 pounds, he still has some room to fill out his burly frame, but he already packs a snarling physical punch to his game.
“He’s a big man and a tremendous skater,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes head of amateur scouting. “For some people, expectations are higher because of his size and skating.”
Nurse also has an impressive catalog of athletic kinfolk, most notably former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is his uncle by marriage. Nurse’s father, Richard, was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, and his mother, Cathy, played basketball with the McCaster Marauders. His older sister, Tamika, played basketball at Oregon and Bowling Green, and his younger sister, Kia, has represented Ontario and Canada in basketball. Nurse’s aunt, Raquel, was a star point guard with the Syracuse basketball team.
While his defensive play – buoyed by his ranginess and physicality – is his most striking asset, Nurse’s offensive game progressed in his second season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
In 2011-12, Nurse recorded 10 points (1g, 9a) and was a minus-15 in 53 games. He increased his offensive production fourfold in 2012-13, posting 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points, third-best among Sault Ste. Marie defensemen. His plus-15 rating ranked second on the team.
Nurse continued to produce offensively in the playoffs, recording four points (1g, 3a) in six first-round games.
Still, Nurse might not project as a reliable point producer in the NHL. It’s his imposing size and calculated defensive abilities that impress scouts the most.
“He has great size and great tools,” MacDonald said. “I hesitate to say he’s still a work in progress, but he’s still building his game and getting better. His game is not yet complete, so maybe that’s the reason why some view him differently.”
The 18-year-old defenseman leapfrogged Sean Monahan to become the OHL’s top-ranked prospect in the NHL’s Central Scouting’s final report; Nurse is the fourth-ranked North American skater, an uptick of five positions from midterms.
“Central Scouting certainly recognized his potential,” MacDonald said. “Sometimes our perception of players from one scout to another is different.”
Some mock drafts have Nurse off the board as high as Carolina’s fifth selection, and in others, he falls out of the top 10. Many peg him somewhere in between.
“He has the tool and the physical attributes to be a top 10 pick, certainly,” MacDonald said.
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