June 05 2013 12:08PM
***Photo courtesy of James Egan Photography.***
From the moment I welcomed Darnell Nurse onto my show on Monday he impressed me. He was very polite, poised, well-spoken and comfortable. I really enjoy interviewing people for the first time, because it is the unknown and I never know how the interview will go, but right away I sensed Nurse would be a great guest.
He might have even exceeded my initial expectations as the interview went by very quickly and easily. He gave some great answers, but moreso I felt he let the listeners get a sense of who he was. After the interview I spoke with a few NHL people who interviewed him at the combine, and they were very impressed with his maturity, calm demeanor and his focus when they interviewed him.
When I introdued Nurse onto the show he responded with a heartfelt, "Thank you Jason," and I immediately knew he was going to give a good interview, rather than just go through the motions.It was refreshing.
After reading his answers I suspect you'd be happy if your team drafted him early in the first round.
Jason Gregor: Can you give our listeners an idea how a young, top prospect prepares for the combine?
Darnell Nurse: I think it’s a lot of work, obviously going to the gym five, six times a week. We have a great program here in Hamilton; I’m working out about 10 minutes from my house. I’m at the gym for two or three hours whether it’s running or lifting weights. Obviously I can’t do much of upper body, (hand injury) but putting on some weight vests and strapping some things onto my wrist I was able to get in some really good work days. I think that in order to be successful you have to be able to put the work in on a weekly basis, and on a daily basis and just give everything you have.
JG: It is now 27 days until the draft. I’m assuming that you’re very much looking forward to that day but also saying ‘I want it to come now, I want to know where I’m going.’ Talk about the suspense, the build-up and how fun it’s been, but at the same time how you try to avoid it from dominating your every waking thought.
DN: I think you said it probably the best, it is fun. I think for me I’m just trying to enjoy everything that comes with the event. But with that said, there’s still a lot to be done because when that draft day arrives that means I’m going to be in a position where I’m going to have to go to camp and do the best I can to make the team. So for me, I’m preparing myself for the next few years.
I’m just going to enjoy this with my family. I think that that day is more something that all of us can enjoy as a whole, just based on the amount of support that they have given me.
JG: Last season you had one goal and 10 assists in 53 games. This year you had 12 goals, 41 points, a huge offensive improvement. What allowed you to become much more comfortable in your second season and to have such a breakout year offensively?
DN: I think for everyone confidence is a really big thing and having that year under my belt, knowing my limitations as a player as well as where I can expand, a summer of long hard work and working on my hands and reading situations a lot better I think helped. That was big and going over video and obviously knowing when to jump in and when to stay back, offensive awareness really helped me to pick up my numbers.
JG: You come from a long line of athletic family members. Your father Richard was a receiver for the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Donovan Mcnabb is your uncle. Did you ever get to play football or was your father like ‘sorry son it’s all hockey and no football for you’?
DN: It was all hockey. He wouldn’t give me the pleasure of playing football. I think that that was one of the biggest things as a kid; you always want to end up following in your father’s footsteps. My dad said ‘stay away from it.’ I think that he’s 48 years old and still feeling hits that he took when he was 20. That’s something that I will probably appreciate a lot more now that I’m in the position that I am. At the time it was always a little frustrating for me, but he was always looking out for my best interest. I thank him every day for that.
JG: Did your dad play hockey at any level growing up?
DN: He did as a kid play a lot of minor hockey and then basically he ended up having to pick between hockey and football and he chose football.
JG: How is it having a father who was a professional athlete?
DN: That’s one of the great things; he’s been through all of this before. Whether it’s the meetings or when I’m working out for teams, he’s the perfect person to go to. With having that source to go to I’m usually prepared for every situation just based on the fact that I hear stories that he went through or he’s giving me advice every waking minute. I think that that’s the best thing about having a father who plays professional sports.
JG: Your uncle is a pretty famous quarterback; Donovan Mcnabb. From what I understand, you’ve had the opportunity to work out with him in the summer. What’s the best advice Mcnabb has given you?
DN: He’s always told me to, ‘stay grounded, ‘go to work every day,’ but what he really showed me through working out with him was it never stops. He had played 10 years the first time that I went to work out with him. He’s already established, he doesn’t need to work out in the gym for three hours a day, he could take some days off but that was never his mindset. He was always trying to get better. And for me what I took away from that is that it’s hard to get there, but it’s harder to stay. You saw that with his 13th year when he lost his job as a pro quarterback. I think for me that that’s something that I look towards my future and I see the amount of work that I’m going to have to do. For me, I’m prepared for it.
JG: You mentioned how going to the gym is fun for you. A lot of guys don’t like it. What do you like about the gym so much?
DN: I find it an escape from everything else, whether it’s school or being at the rink for five hours. I love playing hockey, and I love working out, I just love the results that it puts out. For me the strength and the passion that I feel when I walk out at the end of the week is second to none. And then having the amount of work I do off the ice translate onto the ice is another benefit. For me it’s something that’s so enjoyable that I love seeing the progress from year to year.
JG: I know that you didn’t go through any of the workouts at the combine, but you still had to go through the interviews. How many interviews did you do over the weekend?
DN: 22 in total.
JG: Did any questions catch you off guard?
DN: None really caught me off guard. My dad and my uncle helped because they sat me down and grilled me, and probably gave me all of the questions that were there. There was one where I had to pick what my favourite animal was. I think that that was probably the one that was most out of the park.
JG: What did you pick, and then did they ask you to explain why it was your favourite?
DN: They didn’t ask me why, but I picked the lion.
JG: King of the jungle.
DN: Exactly, that’s it. It doesn’t get any better than that.
JG: Was Lion King one of your favourite movies to watch as a kid?
DN: Loved it. I still call my dad Simba because I’m pretty sure that’s how I was raised.
JG: How did you approach that question period with the NHL teams? Was it nerve-wracking?
DN: I think that you just have to be genuine. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously you’re in this position for a reason, and you can’t change who you are or give people answers that you think that they want to hear. For me, that was the biggest thing; just go in there and show them who I am as a person. By doing that it made the interview process a lot easier. With that being said, after 22 meetings there is a point where you get sick of talking about yourself for sure.
JG: How long is each interview?
DN: They are about 20 minutes.
JG: Are you just going from one team to the next, or are there breaks involved?
DN: There were breaks, opportunities to go and eat. For the most part you had a block where you had to do a few interviews and then you had time off.
JG: A lot of people are comparing Darnell Nurse and Seth Jones. Do you see similarities in your games, and what do you like about Jones’ game?
DN: I think that there are definitely similarities, but that we are two different players, completely different players. His biggest strengths probably come more in the offensive zone and mine in the defensive zone and I’m just trying to develop the all-around game.
Probably the best part of his game is his ability to get open in the offensive zone and create offence. So for me, to see guys like that, you try to take away things from their game and add it to mine.
JG: Which forward in the Ontario Hockey League did you look forward to playing this year, and who was the biggest challenge?
DN: I think either Mark Scheifele or Vincent Trocheck. We played against Trocheck six or seven times this year after he got traded. I think that he was probably the player I look forward to playing the most because I knew that I was going to be out there with him every shift and that if I did my job that my team would come out on top.
JG: You have a healthy mean streak to your game, at least according to a lot of the scouting reports. Does that mean streak come naturally, or are you more of a highly competitive guy than necessarily a mean player. How would you define it?
DN: I think that it’s a combination of both. I’ve always had that side to me where I’m not afraid of anyone. Just based on the fact that I truly believe that that’s the way that you have to be to survive any professional sport. I’ll never back down and if someone is challenging my teammates, I’m always there for them.
With that said, I’m very competitive and I hate to lose battles and I think that fuels the fire for me. Especially in my own zone and being someone who’s hard to play against.
JG: What do you do in your spare time Darnell?
DN: I love music, whether it is hip hop or rock, I love listening to music. I play the guitar a little bit; I’m trying to pick it up again, as it was something I did a little more when I was younger. That is my main passion and other than that, just hanging out with friends. I think that you have to enjoy the free time that you have in the off-season and for me it’s a good opportunity to hang out with family and friends.
Nurse stands 6'5' and is already close to 200 pounds. By the time he fills out he'll likely play at 215 to 220 pounds. He is big, aggressive and an exceptional athlete. He has good hockey sense, and it is clear he won't take any shortcuts to reach his goal of playing in the NHL.
In a few years I won't be surprised if he becomes one of the best players from the 2013 NHL draft class. Some teams will shy away from taking a D-man early in the draft, but if he is available at #7, the Oilers will have to take a long, hard look at him.
I believe the Oilers biggest organizational weakness is the lack of a top-pairing defender. I don't expect Nurse to be that guy for a few years, but if the Oilers plan on being a legitimate contender down the road they need to draft and develop a top-pairing defender. Nurse could be that guy.
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