London Knights’ pipeline to the pros brings in fast-developing U.S. defenceman

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The London Knights’ reputation for getting players to the National Hockey League has landed them an American defenceman who was committed to play university hockey at Michigan.

The Knights announced the signing Friday of Alec Regula, a tall, lanky, 6-foot-4, 184-pound 17-year-old who was a fourth-round pick of the Knights in the 2016 Ontario Hockey League draft.

“I just decided I wanted to play in the NHL and there was no better way to do that than to come here,” Regula said.

Regula did not travel the conventional route to the OHL. Instead of playing Triple A hockey, he opted to play with his brother on his high school hockey team. Regula, a native of West Bloomfield, Mich., then spent a year playing with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He won a championship with both his high school team and the Steel.

He said he decided a week ago to not return to the Steel or go to Michigan and come to London instead.

He knows several of the players on the Knights and is especially close to Sam Miletic. They went to the same high school.

“We worked hard together all summer,” Regula said. “Sam by playing here last here, he had nothing but good things to say about it and it’s done wonders for him. He kind of persuaded me a little bit. The way I saw him grow as a player really influenced me a little bit.”

Regula says the decision to forgo playing at Michigan was difficult, but the more he looked into the Knights, the more he knew he wanted to play in London.

“Just looking at the history and all the players who have moved on and played at higher levels and the development, it’s very exciting,” he said. “There’s so many things, I could sit here and talk all day about it.

“I came here last year to a playoff game and it was absolutely packed, not a seat empty. I’ve heard things from Sam and they say it’s unbelievable. Last year in Chicago I played on a small rink, public rink . . . probably the most fans we got was 600, 800. I’m very excited to play in front of fans like that.”

Regula also said that his rapid improvement as a player was also a factor in his decision to play in the OHL.

“I think the steps I’ve made in my game (are) unbelievable from high school,” he said. “I remember in my freshman year I was struggling to make the Triple A team and played high school with my brother. I worked hard every day and got better and better. I grew a lot and it helped my game. Now I think I’m a totally different player than I was there. I still have a high ceiling and I’m working hard every day.”

Knights’ general manager Rob Simpson agrees with the assessment. “Even from when I watched him in (high school) to where he is now, he’s taken big steps every single year.”

Although he’s a big man and will fill out, Regula is not a banger. He’s a good skating defenceman who can move the puck.

“With this size and skating and he’s starting to fill out as well — those are contributing to where he’s going to go, to him getting to where he’s going to the North American Prospects’ Game,” Simpson said.

The 2017 Hockey All-American Prospects Game serves as a showcase for top U.S.-born players who are eligible for the 2018 NHL entry draft.

Regula was drafted by former Knights’ general manager Basil McRae. McRae had close contact with the Regula family years ago. Regula’s father was the team dentist for the Detroit Red Wings and had to do some work on McRae’s teeth after a fight when McRae was playing in the NHL. And he is still the dentist for the Detroit Lions.

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