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Darnell Nurse draws from football bloodlines ahead of NHL draft

Defenceman Darnell Nurse of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Terry Wilson/OHL Images

The hockey bloodlines run deep in this weekend's NHL draft.

Familiar names like Bertuzzi, Brodeur, Burke, Comrie, Domi, LaFontaine, Mantha, Rychel, Stevens, Subban, and Tambellini could be called Sunday at the podium at the Prudential Centre in Newark, N.J.

Defenceman Darnell Nurse also has impressive family ties. But his come from the gridiron.

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Father Richard played wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. His uncle, by marriage, is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Darnell chose hockey. His parents were happy to see him opt for a different sports path.

"That was more my Dad," said Nurse. "My Mom too. I mean they both pretty much said for safety reasons, stay away from football. I'm thankful for it now."

He sees the toll football took on his father, reeling off the damage he noted when the two were spending time together recently on the family's backyard deck in Hamilton.

"His hands are mangled, he can't move some of his fingers and he's got an elbow that doesn't move right. I looked at that and though those are battle wounds. Something maybe one day I get to show my kid," Nurse said.

It's not as if Nurse, who stands almost six foot four and weighs 185, took up a non-contact sport in hockey.

"Not at all," he said. "I think the biggest thing for them is I can probably control a little more hitting people in hockey than in football where you get hit every play. Put me on the back end and I get to control what happens."

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Nurse, 18, has excelled in his chosen sport. Central Scouting ranks him fourth among North American skaters and second among defencemen behind Seth Jones.

In his second year with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Nurse scored 12 goals and added 29 assists and 116 penalty minutes in 68 games. People have compared him to a young Chris Pronger.

His high draft rating earned him a trip to the Stanley Cup final, along with Jones and top-rated forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.

He already knew MacKinnon and Drouin from playing with them at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

At the Cup, Nurse marvelled at the media horde in the Bruins locker-room following a pre-game morning skate.

"Something I've never experienced before," he said. "It was kind of exciting to watch ... I was getting hot in there and I was doing nothing."

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He also enjoyed meeting Chicago stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

"The mess that they put defenders in, being able to meet those guys was great,"

he said.

On the Boston side, he liked watching the David Krejci-Milan Lucic-Nathan Horton line.

Nurse grew up idolizing the likes of Scott Stevens and Jarome Iginla. So it comes as no surprise that he likes being a prickly opponent.

"One of the best part of my game is being someone who's hard to play against," he said. "I think the fights kind of come with just battles, and people trying to challenge me after I challenge them. Something I'm not afraid to do but at the same time it's not something I go out and look for."

Nurse has also made a mark off the ice, winning the Bobby Smith Trophy as the OHL's Scholastic Player of the Year this season. He earned an 85 per cent average in Grade 12.

"His work ethic and lifestyle allow him to have elite results academically and athletically," Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas said at the time.

As for football, Darnell is true to his Dad, following his beloved Tiger-Cats.

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