Several times during the season the Arizona Coyotes were regarded as the team with the best prospect system, with names like Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini. However there was one area of the prospect pool that was lacking and that was defensive prospects. At the 2016 NHL Draft they added a well-touted defensive prospect in Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall, but they didn’t stop improving their defensive depth there.
With the 158th overall pick the Coyotes selected Patrick Kudla, who just so happened to already be an ASU commit for 2017-18. The former OJHL talent stands at 6’3" 174 pounds and is a left-handed defenseman. But that wasn’t always the case.
Two years ago Kudla made the transition from forward to defenseman. This was a decision that was prompted by his coach.
"I was a fourth line guy at the time, not really playing a lot of minutes," said Kudla when asked how the transition came about. "Our coach called me and said ‘Hey, do want to switch to D?’ , and I said ‘I mean anything is kind of better than forward.’
"It ended up working out and I’ve just stuck with it since then."
This transition however was also aided by the fact that Kudla already played with a heavy defensive edge to his game.
"I think that I was kind of the guy who was relied on more defensively," Kudla said. "I was playing a center role so I think I was a guy who took defense first anyways. The switch [from offense to defense] was a smooth one."
When looking at Kudla’s talent during Prospect Development Camp, it is easy to see what has made him stand out to scouts. His stops are crisp and clean, his turns smooth and tight. He hustles in every drill and listens readily to the advice that coaches give him. Kudla also has a strong defensive presence for only playing the position for two seasons.
It is these same factors, and more, that surely made him stand out to Arizona State University’s hockey scouts.
"They came and watched a game, and I think they watched a lot of video before they came," said Kudla discussing how ASU approached him with the offer. "I had a talk with them after the game and they actually offered me the scholarship right after that game.
"They told me: ‘Think about it, with your family.’ I waited about a couple of days and then I just took the offer then and there."
There were several things that drew Kudla to this program. One was the pure uniqueness of the opportunity, as not many colleges play hockey at a highly competitive level in the heat like ASU does.There was also the opportunity to make a lasting impact that enticed him.
"It’s a neat program and you can set a tradition," Kudla said. "That first winning record or that first national championship and I think that’s really cool."
Though he is aware that ASU’s Men’s Hockey team has yet to play a complete year of NCAA D1 games, Kudla believes that the team will find real success.
"A lot of guys have registered to come and play over here," Kudla said. "So I think this year coming up will be a really good year for them and then down the road I think the team is going to be a power house."
While Kudla adds depth and talent to the Coyotes prospect pool, both defensively and offensively, he offers much more than many may realize.
Kudla is an extremely driven player with a lot of heart and a rare opportunity that not many have.
The Coyotes are striving to expand the power and prominence of hockey in the desert and they’re doing that in perhaps one of the best ways possible: by highlighting talent that is developing in their own backyard. Auston Matthews is a testament to the work that Arizona hockey is putting in, but he doesn’t have to be the only success story.
Kudla has the chance to show how desert hockey can help you thrive on the ultimate level. By playing for ASU he has the opportunity to show that the team can be used as a great developmental stage for truly talented NHL players.
While Kudla may not be from Arizona, and he may not have been drafted first overall, he still has a chance to make an impact and he welcomes the challenges ahead of him.
"I think that hopefully it could be a cool story for guys to kinda look up to," said Kudla. "It doesn’t matter where you’re drafted. It matters what you do after that, and as long as you put the work in, I think that anyone in this game can make it."
But what drives Kudla the most and allows him to play with so much heart?
"I’ve got a little brother who has special needs, that I take care of," Kudla shared. "He’s a pretty good character, so he’s fun to hang around with."
Kudla’s younger brother Jack, who is 18 years old, is a huge factor in how he approaches the game.
"He loves hockey," said Kudla with a fond, wide smile. "He’s one of the reasons that I push myself so hard, because he loves going to the rink. He loves it so much. He was super pumped when I got drafted, he just loves it."
Kudla is quick to admit that his brother has helped to shape him into the person he is today.
"He builds a lot of character, a lot of responsibility," Kudla said. "Sometimes you’ve got to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night to take care of him. You learn a lot from guys like that."
When asked if his brother has moved him to have any special hobbies or interests, he stated that because of Jack the Special Olympics are also something of importance to Kudla.
"They’re all so friendly and always smiling. I think you can take a lot out of that," Kudla said. "There’s a lot of people who can go through the day and be glum about it because they don’t have every advantage in life, but they’re always smiling.
"I think that’s something that I’ve always admired. That's the type of guy that I am. I’m the type of guy that is always smiling, always laughing and joyful."
To say that Kudla’s brother has been a defining factor in most aspects of Kudla’s life would probably be an understatement.
Kudla knows that the road to the NHL is not an easy one and that he has a lot of work to do but he is excited to put in that work. He knows that with a lot of hard work and some heart that anything is possible. In the meantime he will play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL.
When asked if he had decided what he was going to major in when he gets to ASU, Kudla laughed and said that he had not. Surely he hopes that he won’t need a degree in the end.
Though he might not know his major Kudla has decided one thing: He is incredibly honored and excited to represent the Coyotes at ASU and possibly one day in the NHL.
"I answered the phone [on draft day] and it was probably the best call of my life. I think that it’s a really cool opportunity," Kudla said. "I don’t think that they get enough credit for being a hockey market. I think especially at ASU, there’s a ton of people who love hockey and even here in Glendale.
"I think it’s going to be awesome to be here in Arizona. I love it here, so I’m happy to be here. Hopefully for the rest of my life."