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From Alaska to Seattle, Thunderbirds sign prospect Gabe Ludwig

The Seattle Thunderbirds signed Alaskan born center Gabe Ludwig this week. (photo courtesy Penguins Elte)

Newly signed Thunderbirds center Gabe Ludwig spent last season playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U15 squad and he had a strong season. It’s unknown exactly how strong since the Penguins don’t keep individual statistics, or at least don’t publish them.

That didn’t stop the Thunderbirds scouts and general manager Bil La Forge from pursuing Ludwig after drafting him in the second round of the 2019 Bantam Draft. They were impressed by watching him play.

“I guess my points were Ok, I don’t really remember,” Ludwig said from his home in Eagle River, Alaska on Tuesday.

After a year of exploring his options, Ludwig, 16, made it official this week as he signed on to play in the WHL with the Thunderbirds.

“Gabe is an exciting signing for the Thunderbird organization,” La Forge said in a team release. “Gabe was evaluated as a top-end talent by our scouts prior to last year’s bantam draft. Our whole organization has worked together to make this signing a reality.”

He slipped in the Bantam Draft last year out of fear he might choose to go the USHL and NCAA route instead of coming to the WHL. Seattle liked him, had a first-round grade on him, and decided to select him in the second round and try to recruit him to the Thunderbirds.

Ludwig looked at both options closely over the course of the season before choosing the Thunderbirds.

“I wanted to take the year to think about it,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into it and a lot of thinking on it because it’s obviously a big decision that can impact you for the next five or ten years. I wanted to be patient with it and make the right decision.

“The main thing was the development. I think (Seattle) is going to be the best place for me to develop and help me move on in my hockey career. The organization and staff are such great people and those are the type of people I want to surround myself with…I just fell in love with Seattle.”

Growing up in Alaska, he didn’t know much about the WHL.

He knew it was a high-end league and that top players came out of it, but he had only been to one game, in Kamloops, while playing in a Pee-Wee tournament. He would learn more after a successful tournament in Vancouver during December of 2018.

WHL clubs began reaching out to him and he and his family started to do some research and were intrigued by what the league had to offer in terms of development and education.

After Seattle selected him in the draft last May, he had another decision to make regarding where he would spend his 15-year-old season. He would end up in Pittsburgh, a move that took him a long way from Alaska.

“Overall, it was a great learning experience,” he said of playing in Pittsburgh. “There are a lot of ups and downs. Living away from home you have to learn to be on your own and deal with certain emotions. It was a new team and I had to learn to play with new players. I lived with a billet family for the first time which was great. The people I met and the relationships I had will be life-long relationships. It was really great.”

He got to attend a couple of NHL games while there and says the Penguins will always hold a special place in his heart, despite being more of a Toronto Maple Leafs fan these days.

Growing up, however, it would be the game of Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews that Ludwig would model his play after.

“I would describe myself as fast,” he said. “A speedy 200-foot center, I’m reliable in my own zone, on the penalty kill and good with the stick. But, I also have the ability to create offense.”

Ludwig will join a talented group of young Thunderbirds next season and beyond.

He’s heard good things about the players taken in his draft class and got to see the Thunderbirds play a game in February against the Vancouver Giants.

Watching Seattle’s rookies Conner Roulette, Kai Uchacz, Lucas Ciona, and Mekai Sanders impressed him. So did a loud accesso ShoWare Center crowd.

“I’ve played in full stands but nothing like that,” he said. “It was really exciting to see.”

Earlier that day he took part in a morning skate with goalie Blake Lyda, rookie Reid Schaefer, and assistant coach Castan Sommer.

It was a chance for him to get a feel for the WHL environment.

“It was really cool to meet them and talk to them,” Ludwig said. “It was cool to watch Schaefer, he’s a bigger guy and plays at a higher level. I was able to see where I need to be in my game. I enjoyed meeting Coach ‘Cas and seeing what he does as well.”

When the WHL season gets the green light to operate again, hopefully, in the fall, Ludwig will be ready. He’s excited to work this summer and head to training camp where he’ll meet his future teammates.

“My goal is to prove myself,” he said. “I want to prove myself and show them what I can do. I’d like to put on some weight and get bigger and stronger and help me prepare for the season. Just prove myself and make the team.”