Sault Ste. Marie’s season may have come to an end but their captain will continue playing for the immediate future.
, the seventh overall pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, has been assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League, following the Greyhounds’ exit from the OHL playoffs. It’s a move that will not only help the Barons who are in the thick of a tight playoff race in the AHL’s Western Conference, but it also serves as an experience building opportunity for Nurse.
“I think the big thing for me is just to go in and soak up everything I can,” he said. “This is a great experience for me and a great opportunity and I’m just going to make the most of it and enjoy every day I have.”
Nurse finished the OHL regular season with 50 points (13-37-50) in 64 games. In his third season with the Greyhounds, Nurse took on a bigger role, with bigger minutes as the team’s captain. The role and responsibility was a learning experience for the 19 year-old.
“It was a great season,” Nurse said. “I think just personally, being at Sault Ste. Marie and learning on the spot really. You have the leadership qualities but at the same time it’s always a learning experience. For me, that was probably the biggest thing. To lead the team and go out and do that by example every night.
“Whenever things needed to be said, I was always there to say it but I think it was obviously a year where there were probably a couple of opportunities that were missed out on for me. It was a little bit disappointing but at the same time, it was a challenge and really pushed me to really elevate my game as the season went on.”
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From being cut by the Oilers after his first NHL training camp and preseason to not being a part of Team Canada at World Juniors, Nurse has experienced some individual adversity this season. That has only made him stronger.
“I think obviously it helps you to grow as a person. For me it was something that was seen as decisions that were made, I just kind of brushed it off, went on and did everything I could for my team in Sault Ste. Marie. I have no real regrets of how I’ve played this year and how the year went. I’m just looking forward to this opportunity I have coming up.”
Nurse told the Edmonton media after the Oilers' preseason that he wanted to return to the OHL and ‘dominate’. The Oilers’ top prospect said he feels like he accomplished his goals upon his return to his team in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
“Yeah, I think it was a year where I definitely not only grew as a player and a person but played at a really high level and did everything I could for my team,” he said. “I think when the games were on the line and it was big-time games, I did everything I could to help be a part of the solution to get the right result. There’s no real regrets. I went out there and gave everything I had and it was a great season and a lot of fun for me.”
Nurse can put the Greyhounds’ 4-0 series loss to Erie in the second round of the OHL playoffs behind him now. He’ll be playing against professional hockey players and NHL hopefuls during a time where AHL hockey is at its peak, heading into the playoffs.
“I think obviously, there were ups and downs of the playoffs and obviously it didn’t end the way that we wanted it to here at Sault Ste. Marie. This is a great opportunity for me to go and really try myself against men that do this for a living and I can’t wait to do it.”
Nurse is a tough player, who at 6-foot-4 can provide an another big presence to the Barons blue line. He can also potentially inject some scoring as well. With the team’s captain and one of their best scorers Anton Lander currently up with Edmonton and Mark Arcobello on the mend with an injury, OKC could always use some more point production.
But first comes first and that’s playing a solid defensive game.
“For me, I think the biggest thing is to come in and be someone who is hard to play against and take care of my own end first. I’ve always had the mindset that when the opportunities arise to jump in and find a late lane then I’ll be that guy to do that. But my first responsibility and my first main focus is really going to be in my own zone and being someone hard to play against.”
Nurse tied for the Greyhounds’ lead in playoff scoring with eight points (3-5-8) in nine games.
The young defenceman will meet the Barons in Abbotsford where they have two games this weekend, on Friday and Sunday. Nurse will immediately try and make an impact while not hesitating to assert himself at the higher level.
“You have to respect the speed and the strength that these guys have at this level. It’s a hundred steps above what I was playing a few days ago but, at the same time, I think when you hesitate and when you kind of wait for the game to come to you I think that’s when bad things happen. I think you’ve just got to go in and play your game. I’ve been put in this position for a reason and I’ve just got to go out and do the things that make me successful.”