Opening round of NHL Draft takes place Tuesday, Rounds 2-7 set for Wednesday
After posting a four-point night in just his ninth game in a Prince Albert Raiders uniform on Oct. 19, 2019 against the Moose Jaw Warriors, forward Ilya Usau was still thinking about how he could get better in his new surroundings.
“I have more of an idea of how the team plays and I’ve been picking things up along the way,” Usau said. “However, there’s still more work to do and I can get better every time out.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can out there to help the team win and I’m just staying focused on the details.”
The 19-year-old forward from Denver, Colo. was able to do just that as he ended up fourth in team scoring with 52 points in 58 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign and had the fifth most points among all rookies in the Western Hockey League, in addition to having three points in five games for Belarus at the Division I World Juniors.
However, Usau’s still looking to get better as he prepares for his second season in a Raiders uniform, which is expected to get underway in December.
“There are still things I can learn and get better at,” Usau said in a recent interview on the Raiders’ website with Brett Smith. “Hopefully I can do that next year and help the team win the championship. That’s what we all strive for.
“I kind of had to adjust to everything and get used to playing WHL hockey. Everything happens fast and everyone is big and strong, but I think my transition period was smooth because of my teammates, coaches and billets helping me out whenever I needed it.”
After not being considered for selection a year ago, Usau was ranked 108th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting ahead of this week’s draft and is a potential late round pick.
“I try not to focus on that too much as there’s not much you can change about that now,” Usau said. “You just have to wait and see what happens and get ready for the new season.”
Before he makes his return to Prince Albert, Usau and his teammate Aliaksei Protas are suiting up for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL.
Usau, who was born in Minsk, has appeared in seven games for the club and has recorded one assist, while Protas has four points in 10 games.
Prior to signing with the Raiders last summer, Usau had 36 points in 53 games over two seasons for Salisbury School prep program in Salisbury, Conn. and had been committed to the NCAA’s UConn Huskies.
“That was my first time being away from home so I was able to make the adjustments to living on my own and it also made me grow up a little bit faster,” Usau said during the pre-season.
“It was definitely a lot of fun to be living on campus and being together with the boys as we travelled around Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York for games. It’s definitely a higher level of hockey than what you see in the American High School leagues and a lot of guys that I played with are also playing junior hockey, but they are staying in the United States to play with NAHL (North American Hockey League) or USHL (United States Hockey League) teams. For me, Prince Albert felt like the right place for my hockey development.
Usau is one of four Raiders players who are ranked by NHL Central Scouting, with the others being fellow forward Ozzy Wiesblatt and blueliners Kaiden Guhle and Landon Kosior.
Goaltender Max Paddock, defenceman Remy Aquilon and forwards Matthew Culling, Even Herman, Michael Horon, Spencer Moe, Justin Nachbaur, Eric Pearce and Reece Vitelli are also eligible to be selected.
Two former Raiders could also be picked during the draft, as Saskatoon Blades defenceman Rhett Rhinehart and Regina Pats forward Jakob Brook are both potential late round picks.
Cole Fonstad, who was dealt by the Raiders to the Everett Silvertips last October, is also back in the draft pool this year.
The Estevan product was a fifth round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2018 but didn’t sign a contract with the club before they relinquished his rights at the end of May.
Draft Begins Tuesday
A little over three months after it was originally scheduled to take place, the 2020 NHL Draft will begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday and will air nationally on Sportsnet.
This year’s event, which was supposed to be held in Montreal on June 26-27, will now be held via virtual conference call.
Rimouski Oceanic forward Alexis Lafreniere is the consensus choice as the best player available and is widely expected to be picked first overall by the New York Rangers.
Forwards Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves and Tim Stutzle of Adler Mannheim are projected to be taken second and third overall by the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators, although the order in which they are picked is still unclear.
Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters and Jake Sanderson of the US NTDP are both contenders to be the first blueliner selected, while Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov could be the first puckstopper to be picked in the top 10 since Carey Price in 2005.
Guhle, Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner and Prince Albert product Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Portland Winterhawks forward Seth Jarvis and Kamloops Blazers forward Connor Zary are all expected to be picked on Tuesday.
Other WHL players that might be picked in the opening round include Wiesblatt, Wheat Kings forward Ridly Greig and Edmonton Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours.
The other six rounds of the draft will take place on Wednesday starting at 9:30 a.m.