Aidan Dudas is a point per game player with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, but he knew that if he made Team Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Czech Republic, his role on the team would be much different.
"I knew my role coming into this and I think it shows my versatility to be able to play up and down the line-up," the 19-year-old said. "Obviously, when you're playing on a stacked team like this you have to know your role and do it to your best to help the team win. That's all that matters."
Team Canada scored three goals in the third period of the championship game to come from behind against Russia to win 4-3 and take home the gold medal. In seven games, the LA Kings prospect notched two assists averaging 15 minutes a game, but the stat he's most proud of is his plus-minus, which was even.
"Obviously, it'd be nice to chip in with points, but me and my line, we've been asked to be a defensive shutdown line and if we do our jobs defensively and we limit their scoring chances, that's huge for the team," said Dudas. "I really want people to notice how hard I work because that's my goal in every game. In order for me to play well, I need to work hard every game and that's how I know I can help the team win."
According to Kings director of amateur scouting, Mark Yannetti, not only is his hard work noticeable, but it's a big reason why they selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft and why they signed him to an entry level contract last week.
"It's really hard to find a shift where you don't notice him in the OHL," he aid about the 5-foot-9, 185 pound centerman, who played third-line wing for Team Canada. "And, he's gotten better and better each year. His play last year was outstanding. He didn't have a lot of support, but he never changed the way he played, Never changed his work ethic. He was all over the puck, driving the play and I think that's why he was able to make this team.
"He needs to develop his identity as a pro and his identity with Team Canada is probably closer to what it will be as a pro and that's not always an easy adjustment for kids that are used to being the best on their team," Yannetti continued. "If he can do that - and get just a half-step to a whole step faster - he's a legitimate NHL player.
"He can be a role player that makes a difference," he concluded. "There are lots of role players in the NHL. There are very few who can make a difference."
Dudas is already an above average skater, but as Yanetti says, "At his size, being an above average skater isn't good enough. You need to border on elite."
The good news is that, since being drafted, Dudas has already improved on that front to a point that Yannetti wasn't sure he'd ever get to let alone do it in 18 months, which gives him confidence that Dudas will put in the work to improve even more.
"The way he attacks his development is just like the way he attacks the game," Yanetti explained. "He's turned that chip on his shoulder from being a smaller guy and having to work harder for everything into an it factor and we're sorely lacking that kind of attitude in our system. Anyone that wills themselves to develop to the next level and does it as quickly as he has, those are the guys you want on your team."
His willingness to work hard is also why Dale Hunter, head coach of Team Canada, wanted him on his roster.
"He's a high energy guy who works his tail off," he said. "He never stops motoring and he's got good hands and kills penalties too. He's a leader. He's vocal and he never quits. That's what this team is all about and he's a great piece to this puzzle."
As Dudas met with the media, a gold medal dangling from his neck, he struggled to find words to express his emotions. While he grew up watching this tournament on TV with his family and friends like most other young hockey players, it wasn't until he represented Canada at the Youth Olympics three years ago that he started to think being on this team might be a possibility for him. It was a similar feeling as he watched the seconds tick off the clock in the gold medal game.
"I tried not to think about the possibility because anything can happen and the game can change just like that," he explained. "But, when it was down to ten seconds and we have a 5-on-3 power play, it started to sink in that we were going to win and I finally allowed myself to get excited about it and, I have to say, it's pretty incredible."
Dudas will return to Owen Sound of the OHL where he is their captain and continue to work on all aspects of his game to become even more versatile as well as improve his strength to win more one-on-one battles for the puck and hopefully add a little fire to his scoring touch too.
"I feel like I get a lot of chances, but there's no spot for chances on the scoreboard. If I can turn them into goals more often, everybody wins…except hopefully the other team," he said with a chuckle.
For now he's soaking in every moment of this accomplishment and everything that's transpired over the past month.
"It's obviously a huge honor to play for your country and I can't say enough good things about the guys in the room and how fun this whole experience has been," he said. "It's been a pretty cool ride and I will remember this for the rest of my life."