During the 2010-11 season, defenseman Paul LaDue was playing for the Alexandria Blizzard of the North American Hockey League, a Tier II junior league known more for producing players for the NCAA rather than the NHL. Just a year later, on June 23rd of this year, he heard his name called at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
“He’s a perfect example of what this league is about,” says his current coach, Chad Johnson of the USHL’s Lincoln Stars, “coming in and developing.”
LaDue won a state championship at Grand Forks (ND) Central High School during his junior year and spent a year in Alexandria, MN before joining the Stars.
“He didn’t get a lot of opportunities a year ago, there wasn’t a lot of sniffs,” Johnson says of his defenseman, “but he kept plugging away and found a way into the [USHL] and turned himself into a very legitimate NHL pro prospect.”
Committed to the University of North Dakota, LaDue is proud of the path he took to earn a spot on his hometown hockey team.
“That’s a great league,” he says of the NAHL. “People kinda bring it down, but it’s better than [people expect].”
The Blizzard has recently moved to Brookings, SD, but has retained coach Doc Delcastillo, a man that LaDue considers a mentor. The year in Northern Minnesota helped him become a productive player in his first year with Lincoln.
“He played in a very good league in the North American league,” says Johnson. “He played 60-plus games, got a taste of junior hockey, had a very good season there and just continued into the USHL, so he was very prepared going into it.”
During his first year in Lincoln, LaDue had 34 points in 56 games and a plus-36 rating. Johnson feels that LaDue can elevate his game even more this season.
“He’s a guy that has put on 30 pounds and grown about three inches in the past three years,” he says with a laugh, “but when he was a younger player he was always a smart, good, puck-moving defenseman that saw the ice very well.”
Both coach and player feel that LaDue can add to his 6’2", 195-pound frame and, as a second-year player, he is expected to be a leader both on and off the ice.
“I need to get stronger,” says LaDue. “I gotta be a little more poised on the blue line.”
“He’s probably got to be a little more assertive out there,” adds Johnson. “He’s never been in a position to be a leader before and he’s in that position now.”
The Los Angeles Kings took a shine to LaDue and used their sixth round pick on him. LaDue had a hunch the defending champs had an eye on him when he was back home in Grand Forks watching the draft.
“I went over to my buddy’s house early in the morning and we were watching it together,” he says, “and I saw they were up and I talked to them a little bit during the year and I got a call and I kinda expected it to be them.”
That call affirmed that LaDue has made a lot of progress in a short period of time.