The path to the WHL, is not always an easy one. The 2000-born Portland Winterhawks defenseman John Ludvig can attest to that. After being passed over by all 22 WHL teams in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Ludvig did not even get listed by any teams until Portland did so nearly two years later.
“It started in February when I got listed by them. I came out for practices and they signed me in about March. From there, I just came to my camp and I was hoping to make the team. I had a good camp and here we are,” Ludvig said.
Ludvig was playing with the Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Hockey League when he received the sudden interest from the Winterhawks. “I was originally supposed to go play with the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL. I was planning on going there and then Portland jumped on me. I had talked to other WHL teams and stuff but no one willing to make a move, but Portland and I’m happy with that.”
Ludvig used being passed over by all 22 WHL teams, including the local one in the Kamloops Blazers, as fuel on the ice and off. “Yeah obviously I was disappointed at the time but it was also motivating for me because I guess I was not ready and I needed to put in a bunch more work. From that point I worked as hard as a I could to get me where I am today.”
Ludvig was well aware of the Portland Winterhawks and their Head Coach and General Manager Mike Johnston. He was in the crowd back in 2012, when Kamloops and Portland played in their memorable seven-game Western Conference Semifinal series.
“I remember when they played Kamloops in the semifinals and I went to every single playoff game when they were here so I knew they were a good team and had heard lots of good things about them. I was happy when they signed me.”
Now that he plays in that same league, Ludvig is very excited for Jan. 26 and 27 when his Winterhawks travel to Kamloops to take on the Blazers. “Oh yeah I have them circled, no doubt about that. I have lots of family coming.”
With an experienced blue line in Portland returning five players from 2016-17, Ludvig has been battling it out with 16-year-old Clay Hanus and fellow 17-year-old Ryan Miley for that last spot in the lineup every single game night. Ludvig has gotten into 14 of Portland’s 23 games, but has had to earn each start.
“It’s competitive, but it’s really healthy competition because we are all good friend and like brothers out there. Yeah, we are all trying to get a regular spot in the lineup, but it is fun. We are all working as hard as we can in practice. Whoever the coaches feel like is ready gets to play.”
Ludvig has a goal and an assist in those 14 games, but has piled up 19 penalty minutes, including three fighting majors. Ludvig adds some toughness to the Portland blue line and has always been one to step up and drop the gloves if there is a need.
“I’ve always been like that since I was a kid. My dad raised me that way because he is a really old school kind of guy. I was into boxing and stuff and from a young age I was always sticking up for teammates. If a guy on the other team is running around, trying to scare guys on our team, then I have to go let him know that he can’t do that.”
Fighting is not the only element of his game as he has adjusted to playing in Portland’s up tempo system where the defensemen are expected to jump up into the play. That is how he scored his first WHL goal in Red Deer on November 24th. “It’s a bit of change from how I used to play before and I feel like it has made me better at getting more involved offensively. It has helped me round out my game.”
Being able to provide different elements has intrigued the scouts of NHL Central Scouting enough to rate Ludvig a “C” skater for the 2018 NHL Draft. While this was not expected by him, Ludvig likes knowing he is on their radar, despite the limited views the scouts have had.
“I was a little surprised. I mean I’m still battling for a spot in the lineup here so I wasn’t thinking about it too much. I’m confident in my game though and was happy to see that.”
The path to more time in the lineup is known to Ludvig. He is well aware he has to get more used to doing what is expected of every Portland defenseman.
“I’m still trying to work on my skating more because we play a fast style. You have to be able to skate to play with us. I’m also working my shooting and pretty much everything else-I stay after practice extra to work on skills.”
Ludvig has already proven how hard he is willing to work to get to the next level. If he can continue to improve at the areas he has targeted, he will make the other 21 WHL teams who passed over him countless times, regret it.