Draft prospect Nurse models game after Pronger

062813darnellnursechrisprongerusa.jpg

Draft prospect Nurse models game after Pronger

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- He smiles a lot. He seems to exhibit an air of confidence you don’t expect to find in an 18-year-old.

Did we mention defensive prospect Darnell Nurse idolizes Chris Pronger and says he someday hopes to match his snarl off the ice?

He feels he already has it on the ice.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for the Flyers were it not for one thing: Nurse says the Devils and Scott Stevens remain close to his heart, even though he grew up in Hamilton, Ont., and not North Jersey.

Nurse, from Saulte Ste. Marie, is one of several defensemen the Flyers are interested in heading into Sunday’s NHL draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

He was among a short, select group of players available Friday at an NHL draft luncheon.

Ryan Pulock and Rasmus Ristolainen -- two other prospects the Flyers like -- were not invited to the event, even though NHL personnel originally said they backed out.

“I’ve always loved the Devils, ever since I was young,” said Nurse, whose uncle is Donovan McNabb. His father, Richard, was a wide receiver for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats.

“The Devils were my favorite team,” he added, “especially with Scott Stevens when they won the Cup.”

So you didn’t like Flyers if you liked the Devils?

“But I love Pronger!” Nurse laughed. “For me, I have favorite players and follow them wherever they play.”

Nurse, who is still growing, has ample athletic ability, but lacks the offense and puck skills of Seth Jones, who is the unanimous No. 1 defensemen in the draft -- ranked No. 1 overall by NHL Central Scouting.

What Nurse does bring, however, is a raw edge to his game as a shutdown defender, who also takes his share of penalties and likes to intimidate on the ice like Pronger.

“You watch the game and [Pronger] has so much room just based on the fact of how hard he is to play against,” Nurse said. “That is something I like to take away from his game.”

What about Pronger’s snarl?

“That’s something you either got or don’t have.”

Have it?

“Absolutely,” Nurse replied without hesitation. “Obviously, he showed it more, but I have it. But you haven’t seen it too much.”

How about Pronger’s sarcasm in interviews?

“I like it, I like it,” Nurse laughed. “That’s as far as I’m gonna go.”

Nurse led the Greyhounds with 116 penalty minutes, was second on his club with a plus-15 rating and third in scoring among the Greyhounds’ defensive corps with 41 points in just his second season in the OHL.

Dan Marr, director of Central Scouting, compares Nurse to Nashville’s Shea Weber.

“He’s got a little bit of a mix where he is good at the skill game, good at the physical game, got a good shot from the point,” Marr said. “He’s a pretty good package.”

Added Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards: “He’s the kind of guy who is not going to make a lot of mistakes. He’s steady and solid, and you can trust him out there. Anytime you get a guy his size, who skates as well as he does and plays a physical game, it’s fun to watch.”

Nurse was very politically correct when answering where he would like to play.

“I’d like to play anywhere in the NHL,” he said. “That’s the honest truth. I’m not going to say anything about a specific place.”

He did mention that McNabb talked to him about being a pro athlete in a tough town like Philadelphia.

“It’s not an easy town, but Toronto isn’t an easy town, either,” Nurse said. “[They’re] markets where fans really care how you play, good or bad.

“They will let you know. It’s an atmosphere you want to be in -- a town where people care about their team. It doesn’t matter to me where I go. For me, it’s my job to get ready for whatever situation.”

The Flyers could sorely use an impact defenseman who could play right now. Jones can play now. But Nurse? Scouts feel he needs more time.

“That just depends on what they want and what they need,” Nurse said. “I’m not going to put limitations on myself and say I couldn’t do it. I will put in as much work as I can this summer for however long it takes me.

“It’s anyone’s goal who goes through this. You want to play [professional] as quick as possible. Like I said, I’m 6-4 and just getting to 200 pounds now. Mother Nature hasn’t really taken her toll on me yet. It’s going to take some time.”

Wherever he lands, Nurse plans on bulking up his frame. He needs to be Pronger-size.

His plan?

“Just eating,” Nurse laughed. “You work out and work out hard. That will never change. My mom always has the fridge full. It will come. Pizza every Friday. For breakfast, turkey bacon and omelettes, I love that.”

Left-field option
In a year when defensemen are expected to rule this draft, it wouldn’t be unusual to see the Flyers do something totally out of left field and take a goalie.

The Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Devils and Flyers all have interest in Zach Fucale, who took Halifax to the Memorial Cup championship and has established a reputation as a kid who simply can’t be rattled -- a strong quality in a young goalie.

The Devils pick ninth, two spots ahead of the Flyers. The Sabres pick eighth and the Oilers pick sixth. There’s a good chance Fucale won’t be there when the Flyers pick at 11.

Asked about the conversations he had with the Flyers at the scouting combine in Toronto earlier this spring, Fucale said, “no comment.”

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Facing a critical road game in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Flyers will welcome back a key defenseman to their lineup.

Brandon Manning, who has missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, will return and pair with Radko Gudas on the blue line.

“We’re playing a heavy team tonight,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’ve got some size up front. They’re a heavy team down low. So, we’ll need that pair to play that way. They’ve got to be an abrasive pair and they have to be on the heavy side defensively.”

Michael Del Zotto will be the odd man out as the Flyers have seven healthy defensemen again. Manning, with three goals and seven assists in 57 games this season, said he’s not worried about conditioning or the injury.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Manning said. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. Did some contact a few days ago and not even thinking about it.”

Toronto’s win in Columbus on Tuesday night allowed the Maple Leafs to surpass Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins now hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff race with 82 points with nine games remaining. The Flyers are eight points back, with three teams in between, and 10 games left in the season.

Their play on the road is one big reason why the Flyers are out of a playoff spot. They are 12-20-4 on the road this season, tied for the second-fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams. They’re winless in their last six road games (0-5-1) as they play the second game of a four-game trip.

“I don’t think there’s panic,” Manning said. “I think the focus is on each and every night, not really looking too far down the road. Obviously, the last couple weeks, we’ve probably given up points we don’t want to give up and put ourselves in a pretty tough spot. But we got a good group of guys in here, and guys that have played pro hockey long enough that know what it’s like.”

With Del Zotto's being scratched for Manning, Nick Schultz will play what could be his final game in the Xcel Energy Center, where he spent 10 seasons with the Wild. Schultz, a second-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2000, ranks second in franchise history with 743 games played.

Hakstol said Schultz’s history wasn’t a factor in keeping the defenseman in the lineup.

“He’s filled his role well the last few games,” Hakstol said. “He’s been good in that role with Ghost. So, he’s staying in for that reason.”

Goaltender Steve Mason will start for the 11th time in 12 games. He has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his last 10 games.

Lineup
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmons
Schenn-Couturier-Weise
Konecny-Bellemare-VandeVelde

D: Provorov-MacDonald
Schultz-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas

G: Mason