Alec Regula’s route to Dallas, TX hasn’t exactly been the road most-often travelled.
But for the 6-foot-4 blueliner, a combination of solid coaching and unexpected opportunity has charted a course that’s propelled him up the board of the 2018 NHL Draft.
“When I was coming to London, I really didn’t think about the role that I’d be in. I just knew what the organization was and I wanted to come in and do the best that I could,” Regula said. “When I came in and those other guys didn’t come back, obviously it was unfortunate for the team, but it was a good opportunity for me and I think I’ve taken advantage of it. I’ve had a good year so far, so it’s been a lot of fun.
“I could have been anywhere from a sixth D to a second D. But it’s worked out well.”
Indeed it has.
The first-year OHLer currently finds himself on the London Knights top pairing with fellow draft-eligible blueliner Evan Bouchard. This opportunity came about as a result of players like Victor Mete, Olli Juolevi, and potential overager Brandon Crawley not making their expected returns to the OHL.
Knights’ assistant coach Dylan Hunter said that the pairing of the draft-eligible Regula and Bouchard has been fortuitous — and credits the maturity and growth of the young blueliners for their success.
“It’s tough sometimes when guys are in their draft years, there’s a lot of stuff going on. As much as [Evan Bouchard] has matured, so has [Regula],” Hunter said. “I think the two of them together really gelled — you can’t really plan for that. You can look on paper and say, ‘These two guys look good together,’ but until you actually get them out there…
“Especially [Regula] playing on his off-side. He started on his right side; we moved him to his left, and he kind of took off. We’ve made a habit of it with Mete and guys like that, but usually it’s not that way. He’s done great.”
Regula came to the OHL this year following a season in the USHL with the Chicago Steel. He came to that league not through the traditional midget hockey route, but rather through the high school ranks — an unconventional path.
“Believe it or not, when I was in Grade 8 going into high school, I wasn’t very good. I was pretty goofy, just hit a growth spurt…” he said. “I actually tried out for a AAA team and they said they wanted me as a seventh defenseman. My brother was playing for our high school team, so I thought it would be a lot of fun to join him. It worked out really well and I had a great coach there, and developed really well. It was good.”
He made the jump last year from the high school ranks to the USHL, where, in 53 games, he scored one goal and added four assists witha plus-6 rating.
“I think it was hardly smooth,” Regula explained. “Going from high school to the USHL was a really tough jump. But again, I was so blessed to have such a great coaching staff and Chicago Steel is such a great organization. They helped my transition to junior hockey go as smoothly as it could. That year helped my jump into the OHL a lot.”
This season, he’s played in 62 games, scoring seven goals and 22 points. He’s currently a plus-20, playing in tough situations.
“I think one of his greatest assets is, of course, his hockey sense, but also his patience. He’s cool under pressure,” Hunter added. “We didn’t have him slotted in to play top pair — we had two guys ahead of him. But him, coming in, he just played a simple game. You saw the offensive flair, but he’s very coachable.
“You can tell him what our game plan and tell him what I want to see from him — he takes it from there and expands on it.”
Regula’s role on the team has also increased as the Knights have undertaken a retooling this season, trading veterans including Cliff Pu, Max Jones, and Robert Thomas.
Building for the future, the team has actually played better with a younger roster since the trade deadline.
“We traded a lot of those big names and older guys, and we have a really young team now. I think I have taken a bigger role in leadership on the team,” he said. “I do have a year of junior hockey under my belt. I think we’ve all had to step up a bit since the deadline and we’ve all meshed well.”
Bouchard was named team captain and Regula is effusive in his praise of his partner.
“Honestly, I’ve got to say that the best part of this year has been playing with Evan Bouchard. He’s been an absolute role model,” he said. “He’s our captain, he’s so young, and he’s in his draft year as well. He’s putting up remarkable numbers and it’s honestly been a blessing to play with him and be alongside a guy like that.”
And having a partner in the draft process hasn’t hurt either.
“We’ve both been meeting with a lot of teams on the same days, so we’ll chat about the kind of stuff we talked about,” Regula said. “Obviously [laughing] he’s in a different spot than me, going top 10 for sure. But it helps going through it with a guy like him — especially being my D partner. We talk back and forth and he’s been a huge help along the way.”