Guhle, Hayes and Usau receive Raiders year-end awards

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Ilya Usau controls the puck during a rush up the ice at the Art Hauser Centre.

One of the newest faces on the Prince Albert Raiders’ roster and two of the team’s key blueliners were recognized for their efforts on Saturday.

In the latest announcement of the Western Hockey League club’s 2019-20 year-end award winners, Ilya Usau received the George Cowie Award for Rookie of the Year, while Kaiden Guhle and Zack Hayes were the co-recipients of the Jim Nielson Award for Most Valuable Defenceman.

Usau, who signed with the Raiders in late August after two seasons with the Salisbury School prep program in Connecticut, had an impressive rookie campaign as the 18-year-old forward was third in team scoring with 52 points in 58 games.

“I want to thank the whole Raiders organization for the first year of my WHL career,” Usau said in a video that was posted on the Raiders website. “The fans, coaches, my teammates, my billets and the whole staff made it unbelievable.

“All of you made my transition way easier than I ever expected. It was an honour to wear the Raiders jersey and I can’t wait to be back next year.”

He was also fifth in scoring among all first-year players in the WHL and had three points in five games for Belarus at the Division I World Juniors in December.

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Prince Albert Raiders blueliner Kaiden Guhle collides with Kelowna Rockets forward Jake Poole.

Guhle and Hayes, who were paired together for most of the season, are the first blueliners to share the top defenceman award since Jesse Lees and Kaiden’s older brother Brendan accomplished that feat in the 2015-16 campaign.

After earning a silver medal with Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup during the summer, Guhle would go on to lead the Raiders in defensive scoring with 40 points in 64 games and is projected to be a first round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

“Zack taught me a lot this year about being a good person and good leadership skills, in addition to teaching me a lot about communication on the ice,” Guhle said. “He’s been a great role model for me during the last two years and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Zack Hayes celebrates with his teammates after scoring a key goal against the Lethbridge Hurricanes in January.

Hayes, who took over the Raiders’ captaincy from Brayden Pachal this season, recorded a career-high seven goals during the campaign and had 23 points in 60 games.

The 20-year-old was rewarded for his efforts earlier this month as he signed an one-year American Hockey League contract with the Vegas Golden Knights’ new affiliate franchise in Henderson, Nev.

“I’d like to thank Jeff Truitt and Dave Manson for all of their hard work over the last four years to help shape me into the defenceman that I am today,” Hayes said. “They have so much knowledge and experience, and I was able to learn so much from them.”

The Raiders will be saluting Hayes and fellow graduating overagers Jeremy Masella and Brayden Watts on Sunday before announcing their final award recipients on Monday.