There's a good chance Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse will be playing against a future NHL teammate in Erie Otters center Connor McDavid when the teams meet for Game 1 of the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference Final at Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday.
Nurse, selected in the first round (No. 7) of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, played with McDavid, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, in a gold medal-winning performance for Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The Oilers hold the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and general manager Craig MacTavish has said there was zero chance he'd even consider trading it. On Tuesday, Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky told the Edmonton Journal that McDavid is the best player about to enter the NHL in the past 30 years.
"Connor is a real special player," Nurse said. "His ability to use his speed and make decisions at the high speed make him a real tough player to play against and that's what we have to be aware of as a team."
The Otters have won 18 of their past 19 games, including eight straight in the OHL playoffs. The Greyhounds swept the Saginaw Spirit and defending champion Guelph Storm by a combined score of 47-15 to reach the conference final. They've won 24 of their past 25 games.
McDavid, who reached this stage of the OHL playoffs last season only to lose a seven-game series to the Storm, is looking forward to the challenge of continuing his season. McDavid, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 draft, has 11 goals and 12 assists in nine games and leads all OHL players in playoff goals (11) and points (23). He has scored at least one point in all nine games.
"The intensity keeps building as you go through each series," McDavid said. "The first series is usually the one you breeze through, but for us it was very difficult. Sarnia gave us a great series and I think that's something we'll be able to use in this series in that we really had to battle our way to get here.
"Sault has kind of breezed through the first two rounds and [Sault Ste. Marie coach] Sheldon Keefe referred to it earlier that the playoffs kind of start now. That's not necessarily the case for us. We've had a tough go and I think that's something that could really help us going forward."
This likely will be McDavid's last chance at not only an OHL title but a Memorial Cup championship.
"It's been an interesting three years," McDavid said. "We weren't so good my first year in Erie [19-40-9 in 2012-13] and didn't have a lot of expectations, but these past two seasons have been a complete turnaround. We got so close last year, losing to Guelph, and that has left a bitter taste in our mouth heading into this year's playoffs. We're looking forward to getting this thing going and hopefully change what we missed out on last season."