The 2020 NHL Draft has come and gone, the Prince Albert Raiders can add two more NHL graduates to their list of player accomplishments. Kaiden Guhle was selected sixteenth overall by the Montreal Canadiens while Ozzy Wiesblatt was picked up with the 31st pick by the San Jose Sharks.
Both Guhle and Wiesblatt have already signed their entry-level NHL contracts and will be attending their respective clubs’ camps should the NHL season go ahead with its planned start update in 2021.
In an earlier article, I discussed what I thought would be the future of the latest Raiders NHL draft candidates. I mentioned that I thought Ilya Usau would likely be selected in the later rounds of the draft and become one of the last-minute picks that turn into an NHL gem like three-time Stanley Cup Champion Mark Recchi. While that didn’t turn out to be the case this time around, with the possibility of being selected still in the next two drafts I have faith that Usau will be a future NHL player and potential star.
Usau is a 2001-born player from Minsk, Belarus who in short form has already shown that he has the ability to step up his game when his team needs it most.
At just nineteen years of age, he had already been selected and played for the Belarus national junior program with both the U18 and U20 squads, winning Bronze at the 2019-20 tournament.
Usau came to the Raiders from Salisbury School in the USHS-Prep program in 2018 in which he was coming off of a 16 point season which was his second year with the school scoring one less point than he had the year prior.
Other than an outstanding year with the Colorado Evolution U15 AAA club where he scored sixty points, the talent was obvious but how far would his skill set take him in the WHL? Head Coach Marc Habscheid and the Raiders faithful benefited from the highly skilled Belarusian. Almost nightly Usov wowed the audience scoring 52 points in a COVID shortened WHL season.
It’s a shame the season was halted because he was on pace to hit over sixty points and the Raiders were looking like serious favourites to repeat as WHL Champions. That being said, Usau decided to not sit on his hands amid the league halting and was shortly after on a plane back home on a try-out deal with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.
Going home proved to be a great decision for him and through fourteen games he impressed the club enough and he was signed to a one-year two-way contract for the remainder of the Kontinental Hockey League season.
Something that has caught my eye however is his stat line.
Not one to be known for taking penalties frequently that’s just where Usau has found himself with twenty-nine penalty minutes and one assist in fourteen games. Currently, he is being used split between third and fourth line duties for just over twelve minutes per game in which he has taken just ten shots and thrown nearly twenty-five hits.
As a nineteen-year-old playing in the very physical KHL, I think he is starting to show that he won’t be pushed around. It will be interesting to see how that comes into play in the WHL should he return to the Raiders if and when the league starts up on January 8th, 2021.
The Prince Albert Raiders have enjoyed Usau’s presence on the team and are already looking forward to having another Belarusian player on their roster with their recent import draft selection Uladzislau Shyla.
Shyla much like Usau has enjoyed success with the U17 and U18 Belarus National clubs and shows the ability to adapt his game to just about any pace. I look forward to seeing Usov lining up beside the Shyla this upcoming season, it will be like watching the current meeting the future.
Good luck to both of these young men with their hockey careers regardless of where it takes them after playing for the Prince Albert Raiders.