Chase Pauls in action with the Lethbridge Hurricanes (Photo by Erica Perreaux/Lethbridge Hurricanes)

For 19-year-old defenseman Chase Pauls of Osler, suiting up for the Los Angeles Kings in the six-team regional NHL rookie tournament in Las Vegas September 15-18 was a “surreal” experience.

But, scoring a goal in the second game of the 2023 Rookie Faceoff topped everything.

“That was an amazing feeling,” said Pauls in a September 20 phone interview from El Segundo, an LA suburb, where he’s taking part in the Kings training camp. “I was pretty excited. I obviously love scoring goals, and that was a huge moment for me.”

Pauls, a 6’4”, 215-pound star blue-liner with the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes, was one of two area players to receive an invitation to the LA Kings Development Camp in El Segundo in July.

The other player, also a defenseman, was Martensville product Hunter Mayo of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Both Pauls and Mayo impressed the team’s brass enough that they were asked to return in September for the rookie tournament and regular training camp.

The 2023 Rookie Faceoff in tournament in Vegas provided a showcase featuring top prospects for the Kings, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. The Kings training camp began September 21 and concludes September 27.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Pauls. “The NHL is a big step up from the junior league with more size, speed and intensity. But, I felt like I played good and I’m working on improving my skills and learning as much as I can while I’m here.”

Pauls said he and Mayo connected early and have a lot in common. “It’s been awesome to have a local guy to talk to, particularly at the beginning,” said Pauls. “There’s pressure to perform at the rink, and everyone is focused on hockey, but we’re enjoying the whole experience.

“Los Angeles is a little bigger place than Osler. We have afternoons off, and it’s 25 degrees every day here, so we’re soaking it up while we can.”

Pauls played minor hockey for the Warman Wildcats, while Mayo played his minor hockey with the Marauders.

“I had great coaches in Warman,” said Pauls. “They taught me a lot of things, and really helped me progress up the ranks. Warman Minor Hockey is a great organization, and I’m very thankful to have had that opportunity.”

Pauls played 66 games last season for the Hurricanes, notching seven goals, 13 assists, and 65 penalty minutes. 

Despite not being drafted by an NHL team last year, Pauls was one of 34 players invited to the Kings development camp.

“The draft was at the end of June, and I was hoping to get the invitation to get the invitation to come down in July,” said Pauls. “I had put  myself in a good spot after last season. I got a phone call inviting me to the development camp on the last day of the draft.”

Pauls said he had a good showing at the July camp and knew he would be going back to California in the fall.

“I based my summer around that,” he said. “I worked hard to improve several areas of my game, including my skating, and strength training. But overall I wanted to improve all my skills including  stickhandling, defending, shooting and blue-line movement.”

Pauls, who turns 20 in early October, said he’s shooting to crack the Kings roster and sign a professional contract, but won’t be disappointed if he ends up back on the Hurricanes’ roster for his final year of junior.

“If I end up playing pro, it would likely be in the American Hockey League, which would be good,” said Pauls. “I’d love to get that professional experience playing with older guys who have played in the NHL. If I end up going back to junior, that’s okay. I’d do my best to be a real leader there, and I think it would help my development as a player.

“So either way, I’m doing my best and trying to take in as much as I can. It’s a great experience.”

Pauls said he’s very thankful to his parents for encouraging him to pursue his NHL dreams. “They’ve been great, and I really hope I can give back to them for all the years they’ve   supported me on this road,” he said.