EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last season was a rather eventful one for Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Paul LaDue.
In his third season with the University of North Dakota, LaDue played a major role in the Fighting Hawks winning the 2015-16 NCAA Championship, an experience that could help him make the transition to the professional ranks at an accelerated pace.
“[Winning the championship is] never really in the past,” he said. “Obviously, you start focusing on the next season as soon as possible, but I trained with a bunch of guys from North Dakota, and that will be a special moment for me for the rest of my life. Hopefully, I can carry on the stuff that I learned about winning that championship last year into these next couple of years.”
Shortly after the championship game, the 24-year-old, 6-1, 186-pound native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, found himself in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, after signing a one-year contract with the Kings. He played in three playoffs games with the Reign last season, getting his first taste of professional hockey.
“It was good,” LaDue said about his brief stint with the Reign last season. “I came in about two weeks after I finished that [championship] game, so getting back into shape, getting back into those practices was a little hard.”
“I thought I played pretty well,” LaDue added. “Unfortunately we lost out in the semi-finals. I would’ve liked to get a few more games in and maybe get that championship, but I felt pretty good out there, and I’m excited to get this season going.”
Even though the Kings have not seen a lot of him at the AHL level, LaDue made a tremendous impression this past summer in the gym, which fits the profile that the Kings have had on him all along, going back to before they selected him in the sixth round (181st overall) of the 2012 National Hockey League Draft.
“[LaDue] was somebody [Kings amateur scout] Tony Gasperini was extremely high on with his father’s roots at North Dakota, and he’s known the family for years,” said Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa. “He and [Kings Director of Amateur Scouting] Mark Yanetti—this is a kid they really coveted. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Paul, and our development team—same thing. You don’t get the access to these kids [in college]. Having the year he had, and having the exposure that I had to him [last season], you could really see what they saw in him when they drafted him.”
“With the rules in place, we had to do some good work and spend a lot of time with Paul [last season] to make sure that he was going to remain an LA King,” added Futa. “Sometimes, when you spend that much time with a kid—I know I spent some long hours with him at North Dakota, just talking about his season and how badly we wanted him to get going with his pro career, and you see the burn in the kid and the competitive nature that matches up with everything that Tony and Mark had discussed, and what the development guys had seen.”
Futa got to spend some extended time with LaDue this past summer and he was even more impressed.
“Getting to spend some quality time with him this summer, the competitive nature in this kid and his drive to be a pro is at [Kings defenseman prospect Kurtis] MacDermid’s [very high] level, which was really refreshing for me because he skates well,” Futa observed. “He’s a right shot defenseman, which is something that we covet.”
“We moved Colin Miller and Roland McKeown, so we have a hole there,” Futa added. “Other than Drew [Doughty], we’ve got [Tom] Gilbert, Matt Greene and [Zach] Trotman. But as far as coming up the ladder on the right side, it’s a critical box, as [Kings President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi] would say. This is a box to be filled, and this kid was so impressive over the summer with regards to the work that he’s putting in. I’m absolutely thrilled to see what we have [in LaDue] coming into camp.”
As reported earlier, LaDue played in just three playoff games with the Reign last season, giving him a glimpse of the faster, heavier play he’ll face at the professional level.
“It was a little intimidating,” LaDue said about his move up to the AHL. “It’s definitely faster, and guys are bigger and stronger. But you’ve just got to go out there and play your game and play with confidence, and then, soon enough, you’ll realize that you can play out there. As the games went on, I thought I got more confident and started making more and more plays. Hopefully I can continue to do that at the beginning of this season.”
Despite the brief stint with the Reign, LaDue made a solid impression on the Kings’ hockey operations staff.
“He really moved the puck well and he skated well,” Futa noted. “I’d say he’s more of a secondary power play guy, but he showed that he can handle those kind of minutes. He’s another kid who, when he gets bigger and stronger, is smart enough to kill penalties.”
“The hockey part is going to come easy to him,” Futa added. “It’s the new surroundings. That’s why we felt it was critical for him to come here now. The kid is North Dakota everything.”
“That adjustment—this is my new family, this is my job now. It’s just getting used to being a professional hockey player and the daily grind. There’s some long bus rides now and it’s a grind. You’ve got be physically and mentally ready for it.”
Like most NHL prospects, LaDue has his sights set on making the big club’s roster, but he is also fully aware of the reality of the situation, knowing that he still has work to do before that can happen.
“I trust this coaching staff and this whole staff,” he noted. “Whenever I’m ready, they’ll bring me up. I just take it day-by-day and try to listen to them as much as possible.”
“[I’ve] just got to keep getting better—every practice, every rep. That’s the main goal, and that’s what I try to focus on.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Paul LaDue, shown here during the team’s 2016 Rookie Camp on Septmber 16, 2016 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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