Draft prospect Nurse models game after Pronger

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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.”

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.