Mission accomplished – at least Phase One.
Forward Anthony Duclair entered the New York Rangers training camp and defenseman Darnell Nurse arrived at the Edmonton Oilers camp on missions to make the big club and not be sent back to their junior teams.
Both 19-year-olds learned that they’ve made it to the National Hockey League, at least for a nine-game look-see, with the teams that drafted them in 2013.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Duclair told Blueshirts United. “I had a meeting with (Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault) and was told I’d be starting the season with the Rangers. Words can not describe how I feel right now, but I’ve worked hard to get to this point and I’m pretty proud of myself.”
And the Rangers are pretty proud of Duclair. The team announced last Friday that he was the recipient of the 2014 Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award, given to the best rookie in training camp as judged by the media covering the team.
Duclair, the 80th overall pick in the third round of the 2013 draft, notched three goals and two assists in five preseason games for the Rangers. The speedy left wing registered 50 goals and 49 assists in 59 games last season for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“He’s got an NHL skill set,” Vineault told Blueshirts United of Duclair. “He’s got the hands, the speed, the thinking with the puck. Can that continue when the season starts against a full NHL lineup with full NHL pace and intensity? He’s going to get a chance to prove that. He’s earned the right to start with us Thursday.”
So has Nurse. The seventh player chosen in the 2013 draft, he was one of the last
players cut by the Oilers before the start of the 2013-14 season. An emotional Nurse told reporters back then that “it sucks” being cut.
But he returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, donned the captain’s “C,” dedicated himself to making the Oilers in 2014-15, and making Team Canada’s roster for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in December. He was inexplicably left off last year’s Canadian squad.
Nurse, who hails from a competitive sports family that includes retired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, was a combination of all smiles and all business upon hearing that he had made the Oilers.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Nurse said on the Oilers’ website Sunday. “With that said, it’s just another step. I think to get to this point I’m really happy with the way I went through camp and the way I played, but there’s always room for improvement. I think that’s definitely something I’m going to focus on, continuing to get better everyday, have fun and work hard.”
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said Nurse would have had to play himself out of a roster spot during training camp. The defenseman didn’t score any goals in six preseason games, but he tallied two assists and had a plus/minus rating of plus-3.
He scored 13 goals and 37 assists in 64 games at Sault Ste. Marie last season. He was a plus-1 and collected 91 penalty minutes with the Greyhounds.
“Right now, I think he’s deserving of the look,” MacTavish said on the Oilers website. “He’s played exceptionally well for a young defenseman, I think. We’ll see where it goes with Darnell.”
Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins echoed MacTavish’s view that Nurse may have made the NHL, but he still doesn’t have it made.
“For our guys that aren’t the established NHL players, the evaluation continues…,” he said on the team’s website. “They’ve earned the right to stay another day, but their evaluations will continue. Darnell knows that. He’s a bright kid, he’s a passionate kid, he wants to stay here dearly. I know that, but we’ll continue to evaluate.”