He grew up surrounded by Canadian Shield in a small, northern town where winters were cold and long.
While hockey was his salvation and his passion, he never dreamed it would take him to the bright lights of California, where snow wouldn’t dare fall from the skies.
Aidan Dudas, the Parry Sound native who came to our neck of the woods to chase his dreams with the North Central Predators AAA hockey organization, was selected Saturday in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s been pretty nerve-wracking,” Dudas told the Los Angeles Kings website Saturday. “You’re just waiting there to hear your name called, and once it gets called, it’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s hard to explain. I’m just really excited right now.”
Dudas has never been to Los Angeles before. But he is looking forward to heading to the sunny south as he moves closer and closer to his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.
First, however, is the Kings’ development camp, where he will join Gabriel Vilardi, who the Kings selected in the first round last year. The two have often played against each other in the OHL.
“He’s a great player,” Dudas said of Vilardi. “The past two years, it was cool to play against him. You see guys like that that are exceptional talents, so it’s really cool going to development camp with him and learning from him and seeing what he does on and off the ice to pick up little habits here and there. I’m just really excited right now.”
Roger Crandell, the long-time president of the North Central Predators, was ecstatic to see Dudas selected Saturday.
“This is a very exciting day for the Predators watching Aidan get his name called by the Los Angeles Kings and putting on his jersey,” said Crandell, noting it’s the highest a Predator has ever been drafted.
He said Dudas is living proof that hard work can pay off.
“Having this happen for a young man from a small town shows everyone that hard work pays off and dreams can come true,” said Crandell.
Andrew Morris, who coached Dudas when the talented forward played minor midget hockey for the Predators, always spoke of Dudas as someone to keep an eye on.
“He’s ultra talented, he’s quick, but it’s his work ethic that really sets him apart,” Morris said in 2016 when Dudas was selected as the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s Minor Hockey Player of the Year for the Eastern AAA (ETA) league. “I am surprised by how hard he works all the time. It’s something you see day to day from him.”
Dudas grew up playing minor hockey in Parry Sound and dominated games. He moved up to AAA and quickly adjusted to the pace of the game and the size of his opponents and by the end of his third season, he was routinely the best player on the ice.
He was a first-round pick of the Owen Sound Attack and he’s had two excellent seasons with the OHL team.
Despite his size – he’s just 5’7” and about 160 pounds – he is unafraid to go into corners against bigger, stronger opponents and uses his blazing speed and quick hands to set himself apart from others. But it his work ethic and his hockey IQ that are a cut above.
It’s why he was selected to play in the Top Prospects Game and shone. It’s why, as a 16-year-old, he was selected twice to play for Team Canada – once at the Youth Olympics in Norway, where he was excellent.
While he has risen to the top at every level he’s played, he knows his work has only just begun. Earlier this month, he turned 18 and will likely return for a third season to Owen Sound. He has always been known as a complete player who plays a 200-foot game. However, he knows he must improve.
"I think the first thing is obviously my defensive game,” he told the Kings’ website in talking about what he needs to improve. “Being a smaller player, you have to be really smart in the defensive zone and use your stick really well and body position - things like that. I think my game is a lot of offence, and I think I really have to work on my shot, and if I can build my shot up more and more, I think I can be dangerous in the league.”
He knows the pressure is on to elevate his game.
“I think the (Top Prospects) game really helped me through the year, and I think just going into LA, you show them why they picked me, and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.