He was a late addition to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
And he was one of the smallest players participating.
But Aidan Dudas of the Owen Sound Attack came up huge on the national stage — a continuation of his desire to show that size doesn’t directly relate to success.
“Obviously me being a smaller guy, there’s some criticism about it,” Dudas said. “Being a smaller guy you have to be better than everything else than the bigger guys. You have to be hard on pucks, you have to be really skilled and smart.”
Dudas measures in at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.
Though the narrative suggests that teams are more willing to embrace people of smaller stature, Dudas said there’s still some stigma working against players without prototypical size.
“I think a lot of people say it’s changing and, obviously, it is. But there’s still a lot of criticism of smaller guys,” he said. “Being smaller, it’s tough, but there’s no excuse for it — you’re born this way and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you’ve got to do whatever you can to make the most of it.”
Attack coach Todd Gill wasn’t surprised that Dudas brought up his size unprompted — “Everyone keeps telling him about it,” he said — but hoped that performances like at the Top Prospects Game where Dudas scored twice to lead Team Cherry would lead to more conversations about his player.
“Every day he improves,” Gill said. “What he doesn’t tell you is about all the great things he does and that’s unfortunately the problem at times. They want to make something about his size, but you saw him [Thursday] — he was a giant amongst everyone there.
“Everybody has deficiencies and it’s how you adapt and make yourself better, even though they’re there — and I think he’s done that.
“I think it just shows people that it doesn’t matter the size — it’s the heart and the talent that you can use to make yourself successful. The number-one thing was that he was playing out of position and still scored the two goals, and did a real good job.”
Dudas was an injury replacement in the game, finding out only two days before the showcase that he would play.
It’s safe to say he made the most out of his opportunity.
“I found out on Tuesday, actually. I was in math class and I call from my general manager and he said, ‘You’ve got to go home and pack your stuff. You’re heading to Guelph.’
“I took that as motivation and an opportunity and I just wanted to make the most out of it,” Dudas explained. “It was a pretty cool experience. I was playing some pretty good players and it was a lot of fun. But it’s over with and done now, so I’ve just got to focus on tonight.”
Dudas said he used the experience as a bit of a measuring stick against his draft-eligible cohorts.
He didn’t come up short.
“You look at some of the bigger names, like [Filip] Zadina and [Andrei] Svechnikov — there’s obviously a ways for me to go to get to them, because they’re pretty pro players already,” Dudas said. “Everybody else is kind of similar and everybody’s in the same boat. It was cool to play alongside some skilled guys like yourself, so it was a lot of fun.
“I think you just try and play the same way you play back with your home club. I tried to do that — just to be hard on pucks and be tenacious — and good things kind of happened to me.”
So far this season, Dudas has played a big role in his team’s fortunes.
He’s currently third in team scoring, trailing only Nick Suzuki and Sean Durzi. Dudas is performing at a point-per-game clip, with 20 goals and 24 assists in 44 games.
While those numbers are impressive on their own, his coach feels they should be appreciated for the fact that Dudas hasn’t exactly been ideally used.
“The thing with us this year is that we haven’t been healthy. I’ve been asking him to play as a first or second-line centre — that means you’re playing against the [Rob] Thomas’ of the world,” Gill explained. “It’s a real tough thing to ask a 17-year-old to do, and he’s still got 20 goals plus all the assists that he has.
“When you put him into a position to succeed, he’s only going to get better.”
Dudas said that he put in a lot of work over the summer to improve his speed.
Throughout the season, he’s been working on his defensive play and his shot — and he’s taking inspiration from a player with similar stature who has made an impact at the NHL level.
Dudas isn’t a prolific Tweeter, which makes his posts carry more weight. One of his most recent retweets is a December story from NHL.com stating, “Marked at 5-foot-7, [Alex DeBrincat] is playing larger than life with the [Chicago Blackhawks.]”
“I look up to him and I played against him last year,” Dudas said. “Obviously, he’s a great player and he’s a really good shooter. I’m trying to get into that. I like to pass and make the pretty play, but going into the next level you really have to develop your shot. And when you have a lethal shot, the defence will respect that, and more plays will open up.
“But him being 5-foot-7, just like me, is pretty cool and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps.”