Darnell Nurse got his first taste of the NHL last season. It certainly has left him hungry for more.
He is attending the Edmonton Oilers’ developmental camp with his sights set on a full-time spot with the parent club in 2015-16. He began last season with Edmonton but was sent back to his junior team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, after appearing in only two games.
The 20-year-old defenseman registered two shots on goal and a minus-two rating in the two contests with the Oilers - both of which were on the road. After being returned to Sault Ste. Marie, he went on to record 10 goals and 23 assists in 36 regular-season games before adding three tallies and eight points in 14 playoff contests.
Nurse was understandably disappointed with Edmonton’s decision to demote him. But he came to realize the move was in his best interests.
“Everyone in my position wants to play as fast as possible,” Nurse told The Edmonton Sun. “But it was a good year of growth. I got to play at a lot of different levels and I played a lot of hockey, which really benefited me. Looking back, it was really something that helped me in my development.”
Nurse also gained some international experience, playing for Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. The 6’4″ native of Hamilton, Ontario notched one assist in seven games as he helped his country capture the gold medal.
Selected with the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, Nurse will attend the Oilers’ regular training camp for the third time. He hopes to stick with the club much longer this time around and believes he matured enough to do so after the events of last season.
“I went through a lot of experiences last year,” he said. “I played a lot of different levels of hockey. It was good to hone my skills, learn the balance of when to jump in and when to sit back.
“Year by year, you gain a lot more knowledge and become a better player. I felt last year was a really good step.”
Nurse also feels he’s ready to step into the NHL. He’ll have to really impress the brass at training camp, however, as the competition for a spot on the Oilers’ blue line will be stiff.
Captain Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin and Justin Schultz occupy three spots. General manager Peter Chiarelli already has brought in Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba and Griffin Reinhart this offseason, while Mark Fayne and youngster Oscar Klefbom also will be battling for positions.
“It’s professional sports, there’s a lot of competition, it’s never easy to earn a job no matter who’s in the mix,” Nurse told the Sun.
“Competition is good, it pushes everyone, and I’ll definitely be highly motivated. I’m confident in what I’m able to do and what I’ll be able to do after a good summer of training.”
Chiarelli would love to see Nurse break camp with the Oilers, but only if he earns the spot. If not, he won’t hesitate to send the 205-pounder to Bakersfield of the American Hockey League.
“You want competition, you don’t want to hand anything to anybody,” Chiarelli told the newspaper. “If there’s a spot to be won and one of these young players wins it, they’ll win it.”
One would be shocked if Nurse doesn’t become a regular in Edmonton within the next few seasons, considering his athletic bloodlines. His father, Richard, played in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, his sister Kia is a member of the Connecticut Huskies’ basketball team - as well as the Canadian national team - and his uncle, Donovan McNabb, was a star quarterback in the NFL.
Nurse also has a cousin, Sarah, who plays NCAA hockey with the Wisconsin Badgers. With all that talent in the family, Nurse is determined not to fail.
“I just have to push myself,” he said. “I know what it takes to get to that level, and I’m really confident in myself that I’ll be able to do it. With all the junior (hockey) done, my goal is definitely to come here and earn a job, and that’s what I expect of myself.
“I’m just going to work as hard as I can.”