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CAMP: No rest for Nurse

The 26-year-old is channelling a career year and a new eight-year contract into further growth during the '21-22 season

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - The Doctor was on call, pulling a double shift as an Oilers defenceman and expectant father.

Darnell Nurse has always been prepared to go above and beyond for his team, whether that's on the ice or off it.

The defenceman logged a ludicrous 62:07 of ice time in last season's 4-3 triple-overtime defeat for the Oilers to the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was barely any time for the 6-foot-4, 224-pound blueliner to catch his breath in between the 52 total shifts he took that night.

"Good lungs," he said with a chuckle following Monday's Training Camp skate at Rogers Place. "That's it."

But Nurse's unheralded effort of the night came in the hours after the marathon match when big two-five immediately hopped on a plane back to Edmonton for the birth of his son Aiden and little two-five the morning after.

"He's a phenomenal athlete. He didn't think anything of it," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "There was probably lots on his mind there, and to play that much and play well, that's a huge accomplishment.

"With those circumstances, there were probably a lot of people who wouldn't be on the ice if they were going to have a baby that night. But he managed to get through it."

Video: RAW | Darnell Nurse 09.27.21

Following a career year where he logged the League's fourth-highest average time on ice (25:38) and set new career highs in goals (16), points (36), and plus/minus (+27), Nurse isn't going to let a banner season for him individually and a new eight-year contract worth an average annual value of $9.5 million slow his pursuit to help place a banner up in the rafters at Rogers Place.

"It was a good year, but for me, I wasn't content with it at all," he said. "Obviously it's good to take strides, but for myself, I believe there's a lot more still to give and more to build on my game. To do it one year is good, but to do it year-after-year, that's what makes players great in this league. That's what I'm trying to be and that's the focus that I've brought on myself."

The Oilers assistant captain's leadership will have an extended stay in an Oilers core that includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the recently-arrived Zach Hyman - all of whom are signed to long-term deals.

"It's exciting because you know it's not one or two years then you're done," Nurse said. "This is a group of core players that are going to stay together and see out a large, large portion of their career together."

Video: RAW | Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 09.27.21

"When you get a team, management, and ownership that believes in you and the group to the point where you're getting long contracts believing we can make this someplace special, you want to play. You want to give everything you can to that and make most of the opportunity given." 

With a career year and new contract in tow heading into the new season, the 26-year-old knows the workload he'll have to take on to help push the Oilers to the next level will not decrease. 

"It just re-establishes how much work it takes," Nurse said. "Each and every day, you have to evolve your game. You can't stay stagnant and come in and do the same play each and every year. You have to build off things that have given you success in the past."

Despite the success, that drive to improve is what keeps the Doctor coming back every day.

"I think as a player, to be able to go through your own film and watch it back seeing different areas that you can clean up, that's what makes me excited each and every day to show up to the rink," Nurse said. "I know there are still parts of my game that I want to get better, and there are other parts I know I can get to another level.

"Each day is the most important day I've had in this league."

 Video: RAW | Darnell Nurse 09.27.21

The added caveat of the 2022 Winter Olympics being hosted in Beijing this upcoming February adds some stake to Nurse backing up his rise as one of the League's most-feared defencemen, but the Hamilton, Ont. native hopes a potential spot on Team Canada comes with the Oilers contending near the top of the Pacific Division. 

"Playing in the NHL, playing in the Stanley Cup Finals and competing for a Stanley Cup, those are dreams you have as a kid," he said. "Obviously, growing up watching those big moments in Canadian history at the Olympics, those are ones you hope someday you can be a part of. For me, it's always going to be a thought in the back of my head.

"But most importantly, you've got to take care of business here in Edmonton and show up each and every day to do what I can to help the team win, because if I don't do that, those other dreams and aspirations are kind of out the window. I'm more just focused on our season here and what we can do."

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