On one hand, you couldn’t blame Darnell Nurse for taking some time off after the long season he has had. Tired legs would be acceptable. But, on the other hand, it’s not surprising to hear he’s chomping at the bit to keep that season going.
Nurse, 20, made his NHL debut on October 14, 2014 against the Los Angeles Kings. After two games with the Oilers, he was sent back down to junior to captain the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
A World Junior Championship gold medal came next, where he was named Team Canada’s player of the game following their win over Russia in the final.
He then returned to the Soo, where he helped the Greyhounds finish first place in the Western Conference. Although he missed a month due to a knee injury he suffered in February, Nurse was still named his team’s MVP. He finished his OHL season with 33 points (10-23-33) in 36 games.
|Darnell Nurse (right) skates against Connor McDavid in the OHL Western Conference Final. Photo provided. |
Then came the playoffs, where Nurse and the Greyhounds eventually lost to Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters, 4-2 in the Western Conference Final best-of-seven series. Nurse was, as expected, Sault Ste. Marie’s workhorse. The defenceman took on the most and the toughest minutes, playing on average 30-plus minutes per game in that series.
“I love that role,” said Nurse. “To go out there and play in all situations and play against the top players, I think that’s a role that I’ve kind of, over the years, taken in the Soo. It’s a role that I love to play.”
The 2014-15 season has been one full of learning experiences for the Oilers top defensive prospect.
“It was a lot of fun,” Nurse said of his whirlwind season. “I was put in a position where I played in a lot of different roles and I learned a lot about myself and grew a lot as a player. It was a great year to really develop my game and having that opportunity to win the gold medal around Christmas time was a dream come true too.”
Add all that gained experience up, and now Nurse is with the Oklahoma City Barons for the remainder of their Calder Cup Playoffs. A year ago, Nurse joined OKC for the same reason. Now, he’s bigger, stronger and wiser.
“I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was last year,” said Nurse. “I’ve learned a lot (about) playing in my own zone defensively. Being in the right position, taking away pucks, as well as being able to make plays. My game has grown a lot. Obviously, there is still a lot of room for improvement but you just work on that every day.”
Nurse has missed games one and two of the Barons Western Conference Semifinal series against Utica, both on the road. The Barons new defensive weapon has been sitting as he gets acclimated to the team.
But as the black aces took to the ice on Sunday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Nurse was not among them. With three games at home over the next four days, Nurse could see his first American Hockey League post-season action of the year as early as game three on Monday.
|Darnell Nurse skates by at Barons practice on Sunday. Photo by Oilers TV. |
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Barons Head Coach Gerry Fleming said on Sunday. “He’s looked good, he’s performed well. So we’ll evaluate it tomorrow.”
Nurse isn’t enjoying the time off. Even after a long season, he is eager to get back into game action.
“I’m just waiting to get in. I’m excited,” he said. “If I get the opportunity to play, I get the opportunity to play. I’ll be ready if I get the call.”
The big, aggressive d-man is ready to be inserted into the lineup. When called upon, he’s sure to bring all that experience and knowledge he gained this season with him.
“Just go out there and play hard every shift,” Nurse said of what he wants to do in OKC. “Obviously, being in my position, I come in and I haven’t played here all year long. So just come in and work as hard as I can and do whatever they ask me to do.”