He's not the youngest sibling in one of college hockey's royal families, he's not being heavily wooed by one of the Ontario Hockey League's premier franchises, and he doesn't take the ice as a highly-regarded third round NHL draft pick. No, Lincoln Stars defenseman Paul LaDue doesn't generate the buzz and the press clippings of a Nolan Zajac, Jordan Schmaltz, or Andy Welinski. But one thing he has done this season is quickly establish himself as one of the USHL's elite defensemen, something the Lincoln Stars' staff must be extremely pleased with after having selected LaDue all the way down in the 16th Round of the 2010 USHL Entry Draft.
Through 40 games, the 19 year-old LaDue's 27 points currently rank sixth among USHL defensemen, his strong +25 rating is second among defensemen & tied for fourth among all players, and his nine goals are the third most among d-men. Impressive numbers for the USHL rookie blue liner, and they add to a growing trend of LaDue displaying the ability to not just adjust to heightened levels of competition, but to thrive while doing so.
As a sophomore at Grand Forks Central (ND-HS), LaDue recorded a respectable 11 points (1G, 10A) in 27 games during the 2008-09 season, but it was during the following year that his game really took off. As a junior at GFC he put together an All-Region and All-State season while helping the Knights take home the 2010 North Dakota state championship trophy. His ten goals were the most in the state among defensemen during the 2009-10 season, and his 35 points were the third most.
Having already established himself as one of the premier players in North Dakota high school hockey, last season LaDue opted to forgo his senior year at Grand Forks Central in order to join the North American Hockey League's Alexandria Blizzard. And after a slow start, he eventually settled into his new surroundings and earned NAHL All-Rookie Second Team honors with a 22 point (3G, 19A) campaign while being selected to participate in the league's Top Prospects Tournament.
LaDue's transition to the USHL's level of play has been swift, having earned Defensive Player of the Week honors just seven weeks into the season. And it was just a couple of weeks after earning those USHL weekly honors that he committed to playing college hockey for his hometown University of North Dakota. Throughout the season he has been a key component in Lincoln's run towards the top of the USHL's Western Conference standings, where the Stars currently find themselves just three points behind first place Omaha (the Stars also have two games in-hand).
Now, as the Lincoln Stars enter the stretch run of the USHL regular season, the North Dakota blue line recruit appears to be playing his best hockey of the season. Over the past month and a half LaDue has been producing at a point-per-game clip while also significantly bolstering his +/- rating. Dating back to the middle of January, LaDue has produced 13 points (6G, 7A) in 13 games while registering a nifty +13 rating. His strong play as of late certainly bodes well for Lincoln, who will be looking to make a serious run at winning their third Clark Cup championship.
Looking ahead, LaDue is expected to spend another year in Lincoln prior to taking his game to Grand Forks for the 2013-14 season, but that could change depending on North Dakota's offseason roster turnover. Arrival date notwithstanding, LaDue will eventually be counted upon to provide a steady, yet offensive presence for North Dakota's defensive corps. And if past results are any indication of what the future might hold, expect LaDue to have an early and significant impact for the University of North Dakota.