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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.”