EDMONTON – Signing his name to his first pro hockey contract with the Oilers today is another major career milestone during what has been a whirlwind off-season for highly-touted defenceman Darnell Nurse.
The Oilers and the 18-year-old blueliner agreed to terms on a three-year entry-level contract after the team selected him seventh overall at last month's 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey. And while the ELC is standard protocol for the organization, it's also a significant achievement for Nurse.
"It's a great feeling to know that I'm locked in somewhere and know where my future is for the next three or more years," he said over the phone from Hamilton, Ontario, his hometown. "It's motivation to keep working and see where this year takes me."
Nurse, a 6'5" 192-pound rearguard, played 68 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League last season, recording 41 points and a +15 rating while chipping in four more points in six post-season contests. He was also named the OHL's Scholastic Player of the Year, played for Team Canada at the World U-18 Championship and competed in the CHL Top Prospects Game.
Following the conclusion of his season, Nurse was off to the NHL Scouting Combine, which led to the 2013 Draft festivities and the ensuing Oilers Development Camp. It's been a gauntlet of major events for Nurse, he said he couldn't be happier to emerge from it all as a top prospect with the Oilers.
"It's a first-class organization," he said. "For any player coming into the League or trying to make a team, it's the type of situation you want to be in, just based on the fact that you know all the management and players are pushing themselves to get better. And they give you every resource you need to reach your full potential. That's the type of development situation you want to be a part of."
Speaking of development, Nurse is now back home in Hamilton working out five to six days per week at Sports Specific Training (SST) with strength and conditioning guru Steve Bodanis. NHLers Ryan Ellis and Brian McGrattan are two of his daily training counterparts. Nurse said his typical training day includes 90 minutes on the ice and 90 more in the gym.
"We have a great group that goes in and pushes each other every day to get better over the course of the summer," he said. "In the off-season, you need to be in that type of atmosphere.
Nurse went into further detail, saying his main focus this summer is enhancing his abilities with the puck, whether it be protecting it in his own end or contributing on offence.
"I'm working hard to develop my all-around game," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done offensively for me, particularly my hands and my movement with the puck. That's the biggest thing for me. Everything I've been doing this summer has been with the puck on my stick. And I'm always working hard on my defensive positioning and being able to sustain that for the full 60 minutes of the game."
Nurse has yet to have any discussions with Oilers management about where he'll likely spend the 2013-14 season, but he said he will work as hard as he can to crack the NHL roster while also happily returning to the Greyhounds for another season developing at the major junior level.
"The biggest thing for me is to just prepare myself as well as I can in the gym and on the ice so I'm in the best shape of my life when September comes around," he said. "We'll see where that takes me. Your dream of playing in the NHL, but we all know how tough it is to play in that League as an 18-year-old. All I can do is push myself on a daily basis to get better."
While he's making the most of his time back home in Hamilton, Nurse will hit the road again very soon, travelling to Brossard, Quebec and Lake Placid, New York, for Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Development Camp. The seven-day event runs August 4-10 and is the first step towards cracking Team Canada's roster for the 2014 World Juniors in Sweden. The camp includes exhibition games in Lake Placid against Finland, Sweden and the United States.
Following the Hockey Canada camp, he will head north to Sault Ste. Marie to train with his Greyhounds teammates (as well as NHLers Jake Muzzin, Trevor Daley and Tyler Kennedy, who also train there during the off-season) in preparation for the OHL squad's camp, followed by a trip back to Edmonton for Oilers Rookie Camp and the Young Stars Classic in Penticton.
"It's been pretty hectic travelling to different places with not a lot of time at home, but it's all been fun stuff and things you dream about doing as a kid," Nurse said of his whirlwind summer. "I've enjoyed every moment of this whole experience."
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