The 2013 NHL Draft is littered with familiar surnames ranging from Domi to Subban to Rychel and beyond.
But just because Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse doesn’t have the hockey bloodlines of some of his fellow draft eligibles hasn’t put the Hamilton, ON product at a disadvantage.
His family has the athletic genes more than covered.
Nurse’s father Richard played in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Cathy, his mother, played basketball at McMaster University. His siblings, Tamika and Kia, have shown great athletic prowess as well.
The family’s athletic ties extend beyond blood, too. Nurse’s uncle by marriage is famed NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.
“Having family members around that have played professional sports has given me a great deal of support that many other athletes don’t have,” Nurse said. “Being able to reach out to my father and uncle who have been through a lot of the stuff that I am going through has allowed me to make tough decisions that otherwise I would have not known how to handle.”
The six-foot-five, 192-pound defenseman has handled being in the draft spotlight just fine. Considered a first-round talent for June’s NHL Draft in New Jersey, Nurse’s attention is on October and helping the Greyhounds.
“I shy away from reading rankings or what is being said and just play,” said Nurse, 24th in Future Considerations’ September ranking for the 2013 NHL Draft.
Taken third overall in the OHL’s Priority Selection in 2011, Nurse isn’t a stranger to the stresses of a draft season and performing in front of scouts. It’s taught him to keep focused on what’s immediately in front of him.
“I think like any other player going through this process, the draft is something that should stay at the back of your mind,” Nurse said. “My main focus is just to play and let the draft handle itself.”
With four assists in seven games after recording 10 points in 53 contests last year, Nurse has taken the appropriate first steps to ensure just that.
A few players have said the Hlinka Memorial tournament was their ‘unofficial’ kickoff for their draft season. Do you feel it’s been your ‘welcome to your draft year’ moment? If not, what has been?
“Being able to play against some of the top players in the world was definitely the right way to start off the draft year. It gave me a gauge of where I was going into the season.”
You’ve been a part of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence before. Did representing Canada at the Hlinka feel any different from past experiences?
“The Ivan Hlinka was the best experience I have had with the program due to our team’s success. It was the first gold medal I had earned with the program, making it an even better experience.”
How much did you use the Hlinka to gauge where you’re at versus your draft peers? Do you find yourself gauging yourself against OHL talent?
“Being able to play against top lines allowed me to get myself ready for the OHL season. It allowed me to see how my defensive had grown over the summer.”
Was there anyone in particular you watched closely last year in how they handled the pressures of their draft season? What lessons have they taught you?
“At the World Championships I was able to see a lot of great players who continued to just enjoy playing the game not getting sucked into pressures that come with the draft year. The biggest thing I took away from seeing that was just play and everything will take care of itself.”
Is it difficult to keep the draft attention in the back of your mind? How do you stay level with all the draft attention you’re receiving?
“It is easy to stay level when your surrounded by a strong support staff. With a great family, group of coaches and teammates the draft is far from my main focus. By focusing on team goals and having a strong season as a group, the attention of the draft stays at the back of my mind.”