Paul LaDue entered unrestricted free agency for the first time in his pro career this offseason, so he didn't know what to expect.
Adding to the mystery was the coronavirus pandemic, which created an odd timing for the NHL's free-agency period and speculation that contract values could be decreased with teams facing financial crunches.
"I don't think anyone knew how (free agency) was going to happen," said LaDue, who had been with the Los Angeles Kings organization since turning pro in 2016. "It's been such a weird offseason. For myself, it was my first time going through it. I think it went very smoothly and I'm happy to be where I am."
LaDue, who won a state championship at Grand Forks Central and an NCAA national championship at UND, signed a one-year deal worth $700,000 with the Washington Capitals. His contract is a one-way deal, which means he makes the same amount of money whether he's in the NHL or American Hockey League.
But LaDue, after spending much of the last four years bouncing between the leagues, intends to prove he belongs in the NHL.
"I couldn't be more thankful for everything the Kings did for me over the years, but at the same time, I think this is very refreshing to get a fresh start with a new team," said LaDue, who has been in the Kings' organization since they drafted him in the sixth round in 2012. "I'm looking forward to going out and proving myself. I believe I can play in this league and be effective. So, I'm looking forward to the new change and I'm ready to get going."
LaDue will wear No. 36 with the Capitals, a change from the No. 38 he wore with the Kings.
His role with the 2018 Stanley cup champion Capitals is yet to be defined.
Washington currently has eight defensemen on one-way contracts -- John Carlson (right-handed), Dmitry Orlov (left), Justin Schultz (right), Brenden Dillon (left), Michal Kempny (left), Nick Jensen (right), Trevor van Riemsdyk (right) and LaDue (right).
"I think it's a great opportunity for me to play with this core group of guys," LaDue said. "Obviously, I've been following along and I've seen the success they've been having over the last few years. I just like the style of play. They're a very explosive team. They're fast. They play hard. I think that fits my game. I hope I can come in and help the team win."
LaDue played three years at UND, turning pro after helping the Fighting Hawks to their eighth NCAA national title in 2016.
During his four pro seasons, LaDue has played 122 games for the Ontario Reign, the top minor-league affiliate of the Kings. He scored 23 goals and tallied 63 points for the Reign. He's also played 69 NHL games, scoring five goals and 18 points.
"I've been working a lot this summer on my skating," LaDue said. "I think I can bring more of a physical presence to my game. I've been focusing on that a lot. I think a little bit has to do with consistency and just bringing my game every night. In the end, I'm just going to go out there and I'm going to play my game to the best of my ability and we'll see what happens from there."
It's been a strange offseason for LaDue, who hasn't played since March.
The AHL playoffs were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Kings didn't qualify for the NHL playoffs.
"It's been different," he said. "I think guys, at certain times, need to take a break, because it's been eight months of working out and practicing without any games. You've just got to stay the course. You can look at it as a burden or you can look at it as an extra opportunity to get more work in before the season. I've been looking at it as an opportunity to get bigger and stronger and excel at areas I maybe need to work on.
"You've just got to stay the course, keep working hard and, hopefully, sooner or later the season comes."