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.”

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers on Wednesday night took to the PPL Center — home of the AHL affiliate Phantoms — to give fans an early glimpse of the organization’s young talent, much of which will play on a nightly basis in Lehigh Valley.

One player that may reach Philadelphia before he ever lands in Lehigh Valley did not disappoint as the evening’s main attraction.

In his quest to make the Flyers’ roster at 19 years old, heralded prospect Travis Konecny scored a goal and tallied an assist to lead the orange and black past the Devils, 2-0, in their fourth preseason game, improving to 2-2.

Let’s dive into the action with 10 observations from the game:

1. We start with who else? Konecny. Head coach Dave Hakstol paired the talented winger with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, two of the few NHLers to suit up Wednesday. Konecny jumped all over the opportunity, deflecting an Andrew MacDonald shot for a goal 4:30 into the second period. Just shy of five minutes after, he delivered a pretty touch pass to Raffl in front for a 2-0 lead. Konecny just narrowly missed adding another goal and assist, as well, later in the stanza. You know when he’s on the ice because you’ll see bursts of unmatched speed. 

The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is incredibly shifty with the puck and adept at avoiding contact. At times, he’ll get pushed around when a bigger body squares him up, but he makes up for it with his elusiveness. The 2015 first-round pick sure played the part of an NHL player ready to contribute to a team in need of playmaking.

2. Samuel Morin is a big boy. The 6-foot-7 defenseman really utilizes his tall frame and upper-body strength when battling along the boards. Obviously he needs to work on his skating and puck handling, but he has the size and makeup to compete.

3. Goalies Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon will duke it out for playing time in Lehigh Valley. It’s an impressive tandem. Both combined for the shutout. Stolarz, 6-foot-6, made eight saves in the opening period and 11 total over 29:23. He showed good quickness and instincts. Lyon, not so big at 6-foot-1, is sound and holds records for his time at Yale. He converted seven saves. It’s a duo worth keeping tabs on throughout the season.

4. Forward Colin McDonald will be a nice safety net for the Flyers if they ever need a body willing to bring nothing but physicality. He made loud, impactful hits and had a fight — albeit a short and weak one — early in the first period.

5. Defenseman Mark Alt lost a fight quickly in the second period. He may have lost his balance, but he went down hard. Alt appeared fine when he got up. However, he never returned to the game.

6. The Flyers killed two power plays on the night. The PK continued to show more aggressiveness and disruptiveness on the puck carrier, which wasn’t always the case last season. It’s a big reason the Flyers fell in such a big hole against the Capitals during the playoffs. So far this preseason, the Flyers are 16 for 17 on the penalty kill.

7. Along with Schenn, Raffl and MacDonald, other Flyers to play were Boyd Gordon and Chris VandeVelde, who handled themselves well, as expected. Defensive prospect Robert Hagg had an assist, as did Schenn and MacDonald.

8. Keith Kinkaid was in net for the Devils. He’s expected to be New Jersey’s backup netminder. The 27-year-old is 15-14-5 in his career with a 2.71 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Not crazy stuff, but still a goalie with NHL experience. However …

9. The Devils visit the Rangers Thursday night, so they too deployed a fair share of prospects, resulting in Kinkaid without a ton of help.

10. The PPL Center is a beautiful venue and should be a hot-spot for Flyers fans throughout the 2016-17 season. The trip is doable, parking is accessible and cheap and the arena doesn’t sport a bad seat. The Phantoms should be fun with added experience and talent.