Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse aims for Team Canada spot

Darnell-Nurse-WJC

When the cuts were made to the 2013 Canadian world junior team, a howl went up in some corners when Darnell Nurse was left off the roster. The seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, Nurse had size, mobility and a growing offensive repertoire – all great traits for a best-on-best tournament. But the Canuck braintrust went a different way and though it’s unfair to claim in hindsight that Nurse would have contributed to a better constructed blueline, the Edmonton Oilers prospect is back in camp and on a mission to learn from the past.

“You have to be on all the time, whether it’s a practice or a game,” Nurse said. “It’s a real fun camp to be a part of. You’ve got 40 guys all competing.”

Nurse is at the 2014 camp now in Montreal, where he’s hoping to make a good impression on the Hockey Canada decision-makers and show off his best attributes.

“I’ve always had the ability to cover the ice with my skating,” he said. “My strength is knocking guys off the puck.”

At 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds, Nurse is a big blueliner with a nasty streak. I wondered last summer if that aggressiveness would hurt him in an international tournament where bodychecks often become penalties based on how loud the crowd cheers. To that end, it’s worth noting that Nurse saw his PIM total drop season over season and he said that a lot of his focus has gone into improving on the minor details on defense, such as staying between the dots in his zone and letting the play come to him.

To me, Nurse could be an excellent shutdown option with offensive upside at the tourney, much in the same way Russia’s Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo) took away half the defensive zone every time he was on the ice in Malmo.

After another successful campaign with the Ontario League’s Soo Greyhounds, Nurse even got a chance to see the pro game when he hooked up with Oklahoma City in the American League. He played seven games with the Barons, split between the regular season and the playoffs, where he gained even more confidence in his physical abilities.

While there is a possibility that Nurse sticks with Edmonton this fall and begins his NHL career, he would otherwise have to return to the OHL, since he doesn’t turn 20 until February. So the world juniors would be a great tournament for his development.

With Aaron Ekblad and possibly Josh Morrissey NHL-bound this fall, the Canadians would only have one returning D-man from the previous world juniors in Owen Sound’s Chris Bigras. Even then, the Colorado prospect was effectively the seventh man on the unit (thus absolving himself of any blame in what was a bit of a debacle).

One interesting aspect of this year’s candidates is how once again, the field is dominated by left-hand shots. Canada’s Olympic team was split right down the middle and had great success, but the world junior squad had just two righties in Ekblad and Matt Dumba. Assuming Ekblad is with the Florida Panthers, that leaves only Washington pick Madison Bowey and Kings prospect Roland McKeown available this time around. Of course, Nurse is willing to play his off-side if it means a red and white jersey come December.

“Last year I played both sides,” he said. “Even in the AHL. It’s nothing I’m not comfortable with.”

Now it’s time to start proving his worth, no matter which side of the ice he’s on. The Canadians play four games in a row this week in Quebec, with Russia and the Czech Republic providing the competition. That’s where Nurse can begin to lay the foundation for what he hopes is a berth on a national team that will be under a lot of pressure to win when the WJC medal round hits Toronto after New Year’s.

Tom Renney faces huge challenges at Hockey Canada

Tom Renney

When Bob Nicholson took over as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in 1998, few people outside the hockey industry knew who he was. Over the next 16 years, Nicholson went on to create a corporate monolith that generated millions of dollars in revenues and won countless gold medals on the international stage.

That will be an enormously difficult act to follow. That the board of Hockey Canada has reportedly handpicked Tom Renney to do it is, well, a little curious. Renney is a man of enormous integrity and has a coaching resume – particularly in the international game – that would rival that of anyone in the world. But this is the thing. Hockey Canada is not a hockey team. For the purposes of the president and CEO, Hockey Canada is far more a business than it is a hockey organization. Read more

Americans and Connor McDavid will rule the 2015 draft

a wild idea, but it's not as impossible as you may think. (Getty Images)

I thought it was a bit unfair that some news outlets were already running stories on the 2015 draft class before the 2014s had even strolled up to the podium in Philadelphia, but now that NHL Central Scouting has released its watch list, it’s time to weigh in.

In terms of hype, 2015 is going to be a big year. If the prospects at the top develop on the path I expect them to, you’re looking at three or four franchise-changing talents, followed by some more excellent players after that. In terms of potential, it blows 2014 out of the water.

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Why Gary Bettman was right about hockey in Phoenix

Henrik-Samuelsson

Every year, hockey writer Chris Peters does some serious Yeoman’s work and crunches the raw data put out by USA Hockey regarding grassroots participation in the nation. In his latest post, Peters notes that the state of Arizona was one of the biggest gainers for 2013-14 and I would hazard to guess that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman feels pretty good about that.

As you will no doubt recall, Bettman has played a big part in keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix in recent years, even as many Canadian writers howled (see what I did there?) about bringing the franchise north, where attendance would be plentiful instead of pitiful.

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These Europeans could all be NHL coaches soon

Karri-Kivi

For a brief span in the early 2000s, the NHL had two European coaches. Ivan Hlinka ran the bench in Pittsburgh, while Alpo Suhonen was in charge of Chicago. It didn’t last long; 168 games combined, to be specific. But with New York Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson in the running for the position in Carolina, perhaps NHL teams are willing to look at hockey minds who weren’t born on this continent once again.

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Team Canada gets a new coach for the world juniors

Ryan Kennedy
Benoit-Groulx

Coming off a disastrous finish to the 2014 world juniors in Sweden, where a confused defense corps and feckless power play dropped Canada to a fourth-place finish, the Red and White have a big challenge next year. Not only will expectations still be sky-high, but the tourney will be played in the nation’s two most pressure-packed hockey markets, Montreal and Toronto.

Yesterday, Hockey Canada tabbed Gatineau Olympiques coach Benoit Groulx as the bench boss for that squad. Groulx, who was an assistant under Brent Sutter in Sweden, has a consistent history with the national team and is known for getting the best out of his players.

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Woeful Oilers land big off-ice free agent in Nicholson

Nicholson

NEW YORK – When Bob Nicholson stepped down as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in May, he made it clear he was looking for another challenge. Well, if that was his desire, he certainly found one. And while the Edmonton Oilers have had all kinds of trouble attracting big free agents for their on-ice product, they appear to have succeeded in landing the most prized free agent hockey executive in the world.

A TSN report has been confirmed by thn.com that the Oilers have a news conference scheduled for Friday in which they are expected to announce that Nicholson has been hired to be CEO of Rexall Sports, which owns the Edmonton Oilers. As first reported on Twitter by thn.com Wednesday night, Nicholson chose the Oilers over offers from the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. It’s believed the Capitals offered the most money, but the challenge of being a part of rebuilding the Oilers on the ice appealed to Nicholson. Read more

Jaromir Jagr ends a quarter century of international greatness

Jagr-2

Two of the greatest careers in international hockey ended this season. One of them, Teemu Selanne’s, went out in a blaze of glory with a goal in Finland’s bronze medal win in the Sochi Olympics. The other, Jaromir Jagr’s, ended with a loss and no points in the bronze medal game of the World Championship amid complaints about the refereeing in the tournament.

But When Jagr announced his retirement from international play after the Czech Republic’s 3-0 loss to Sweden Sunday, it marked the end of a career that spanned a quarter of a century and – with all due respect to Dominik Hasek, Jiri Bubla and Robert Reichel – was the best in that country’s history. Once again, Jagr answered the call for his country and like so many times before, he led the Czechs offensively. Read more