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.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).

Connor McDavid: Brandon Manning made 'classless' comments about injury

Connor McDavid: Brandon Manning made 'classless' comments about injury

Connor McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season in the second period during the Flyers' 6-5 win on Thursday night (see Instant Replay). After his 12th goal of the year, McDavid made a point to stare down and exchange words with Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning.

In the first period, Manning and McDavid were in the middle of a scrum after the whistle, chirping each other (see 10 observations). The battle between the two roots back to when Manning broke the rising superstar’s collarbone November 2015 during a play against the boards in Edmonton.

“You know what, I did all I could defending him last year in the media," McDavid said after Thursday's game. "I didn’t want to make a big deal saying he did it on purpose.

"He wanted to make some comments today about what went on last year and I thought it was one of the classless things I’ve ever seen on the ice. He said some things and our guys responded accordingly.

"We can put the whole 'he did it on purpose' thing to rest, because what he said out there confirmed that. It shows what kind of guy he is, how he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys.”

Manning received death threats from Edmonton fans last season, and responded after the game Thursday, reiterating the play that injured McDavid was an accident.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here," Manning said, "knows that I am not that kind of player. I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.

"I think going back to last year, it was a total accident. I mean, there were three players involved and there was never any intention of hurting anyone."

The injury ended up costing McDavid a few months, and a year later, the tension is still high between him and Manning.

As the second period moved along, McDavid continued to make plays for the Oilers. At the 4:35 mark in the second period, he took the puck away from the Flyers and then helped set up Andrej Sekera for a shorthanded goal that tied the game, 3-3.

The shorthanded goal helped give the Oilers momentum at the end of the period, but they could not carry it over to the third. The loss Thursday is the second night in a row in which Edmonton lost a game it looked like it was going to win.

“I’m not too sure what it is but I think we will figure it out,” McDavid said. "I’m not too sure what it is, like I said before. Something we need to figure out real fast here.”