The New York Islanders’ biggest question mark entering the 2022-23 season was which defenseman would win the sixth and final starting spot.
Robin Salo was given the first chance alongside veteran Scott Mayfield and answered that sixth defenseman question for head coach Lane Lambert rather quickly. But a lesser question that still needs to be answered is which defenseman would earn the extra spot and start as the seventh defenseman?
With Salo attached at the hip to Mayfield, the New York Islanders had three options for that final spot, with Grant Hutton, Sebastian Aho, and Dennis Cholowsk as the top three–if you will–when training camp began.
But 30-year-old Paul LaDue, a dark horse for an NHL job to start camp, has survived two rounds of cuts and has impressed in his preseason showings.
“He’s physical. He just keeps it simple,” Lane Lambert shared back on Wednesday. “He moves the puck, and he’s aggressive.”
On Thursday, LaDue notched his first point of the preseason as his wrist shot from the point caromed off Ross Johnston and in for the Islanders’ third goal of the contest, the eventual game-winner in the 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Right place, right time for Ross Johnston. pic.twitter.com/Svn263n41i
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 7, 2022
“[I’m] grateful for the opportunity and just gotta take it day by day and keep trying to get better out there and keep moving forward,” Paul LaDue said following Thursday’s 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. “I know if I play my best hockey, that I can help the team out. So that’s all I’m focused on is going out there and playing my best and playing my game, and we’ll see what happens.”
“But whatever happens, just got to keep moving forward and put your head down and keep working.”
LaDue has played in three of the Islanders’ five preseason contests, averaging 17:55 minutes per game. He’s totaled six shots on goal, 10 hits, two blocked shots, and his strong defensive play had earned him 7:59 minutes on the penalty kill.
“I am just very steady defense-first [defenseman], but, you know, in the offensive zone, I can contribute to so just hope to be as reliable as I can be for these coaches and you know, be consistent to so day by day, they know what they’re getting,” LaDue shared Thursday.
Paul LaDue knows that at 30 years old, he is running out of time to be a staple in the NHL.
“It’s always a little stressful, but again, whatever happens. You’re still playing hockey…and it’s a long season. So you just got to keep getting better and, again, just repetitive but keep it day by day.”
Paul LaDue is entering his second season in the New York Islanders organization, re-signing this offseason after four goals and eight assists in 60 games with the Bridgeport Islanders in 2021-22. A former sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings back in 2016, LaDue has 70 games of NHL experience, 69 coming with the Los Angeles Kings.
Because of COVID-19, Paul LaDue played in one NHL game for the New York Islanders, but was up for the team for a bit. He spoke following Thursday’s game about how he’s enjoyed his time as a member of the Islanders organization.
“I was up for a couple of weeks there, but you know, just how professional it is, and love the style of play,” LaDue said. “I’m a very defensive player, so I feel like I can help all with this team in the system. And you know, it was a little bit of a learning curve coming to a new team last year, but I’m comfortable now and feeling pretty good.”
If you are a defense-first organization, you want your seventh defenseman to be a player that thinks defense-first. Besides Paul LaDue, the other defenseman with that mentality is 27-year-old Grant Hutton, who has looked solid at camp and could win the seventh job.
Or the job could go to 26-year-old Sebastian Aho.
Paul LaDue, from the start of training camp to now, has made Lane Lambert’s decision rather difficult, and it will be interesting to see who makes the NHL roster when Lambert submits his to the league on Monday.