Shortcomings don't define an individual's character. It's what a person does about them that offers better insight to who they are and what they can become. That's a lesson Columbus draft pick Jesse Dudas has learned this past season.
Dudas, a skilled, physical defenseman from St. Albert, Alberta selected 159th overall in the 2006 Entry Draft, is experiencing a bit of an evolution this year in the Western Hockey League, thanks in large part to a recent trade deadline deal that shipped him from the Prince George Cougars to the Swift Current Broncos. Known primarily for his skating and abilities with the puck, Dudas is making a concerted effort to become a better defensive player in his quest to be an NHLer one day.
"I want to be known as a two-way guy that can play defense and offense, help out on the power play and the penalty kill, and just be an all-around player," says Dudas. "Coming to Swift Current, that's what they've been trying to get through to me. I see more time on the ice in different situations. That's what I want to do."
The numbers suggest that the 6'1', 228-pound blueliner, who turns 20 on March 31, is certainly rounding out his game. With the Cougars, Dudas was a key playmaker from the back end, teaming with standout defenseman Ty Wishart. Dudas says he and Wishart would commonly see all two minutes of power-play action.
Through 29 games with Cougars prior to the trade, he scored twice to go along with 19 assists but had a -17 rating. In 21 games with the Broncos, Dudas has three goals (one of which was a highlight-reel rush that saw him beat three Kootenay Ice defenders before deking the goaltender and roofing the puck for a go-ahead goal), 12 assists and rock solid +13 rating.
"I had a feeling I was going to get traded," Dudas says. "I just wasn't sure where. It's worked out for me. Coming to Swift Current, there's a good team here and a coach (head coach/GM Dean Chynoweth) who's played in the NHL so there are a lot of things I'm learning from him. It's been really good for me.
"Here, it's more of a team where everyone's going together," he added. "The numbers will happen when you have a good team. I owe a lot of credit to my teammates and the coaching staff. I'm more disciplined in my own end.
"That's what they're trying to get through to me – defense first. It will take us a long way in the playoffs, hopefully."
Dudas likes the fit on the balanced Broncos, a team that rolls four lines and have no apparent weaknesses in the defensive pairings. Some familiarity with a few of the guys on the team has certainly helped Dudas in his transition with the new club.
He grew up with fellow D-man Spencer McAvoy and center Matt Tassone. The trio played their minor hockey together in St. Albert, home to some NHL greats like Calgary Flames' captain Jarome Iginla and Dudas' personal favorite, Mark Messier.
Dudas has also been enjoying some improved health of late. While he's always been an offensive-minded player, the defenseman also mixes it up (he has 100 PIM this season), a style that can lead to some nicks here and there. His most prominent ailment to date wasn't so much a product of his physical play. Dudas missed almost an entire year of junior with a calcium build up on his femur that essentially grew another bone in his leg. Treatment, he says, involved rest so he was forced to sit out. But his health is back to 100 per cent and his immediate goal is helping the Broncos advance in the WHL playoffs.
Long term, Dudas desperately wants to earn a professional contract. He admits his most recent taste of the NHL didn't go as well as he had hoped when he attended the Jackets' camp this past September. He wasn't physically prepared for it but similar to his evolution from an offensive player to a more complete one, Dudas has recognized the need to improve.
"Camp was a big eye opener for me," he says. "I came in a little bit out of shape. Being there opened my eyes to what I have to do to play in the National Hockey League. That's what I want to do in the future. From there, I came out with a different mindset this year.
"It's gone a long way and helped me a lot."