A player eligible for the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft that most scouts and fans alike have been sleeping on this season is 19-year-old center Kai Uchacz of the Western Hockey Leagues (WHL’s) Red Deer Rebels.

Now, listen, I get it. The WHL this season is chalked so full of talent you may have been too preoccupied with watching amazing players like Connor Bedard breaking records for the Regina Pats. Zach Benson, who has been freezing defenseman in place, up in Winnipeg while playing for the Ice. Andrew Cristall who has been busy making highlight reel plays every night for the Kelowna Rockets. Riley Heidt, who leaves Prince George Cougars fans roaring most nights after a big win. Or perhaps you’ve been tuning into Moosejaw Warrior games to catch a glimpse of the very enticing Brayden Yager. Nevertheless, whichever team or player you’ve seemed to have grown a devotion to this season, I assure you by the time you’re done reading this article about Uchacz, there’s a chance that you might have gained an admiration for him as well.

For example, you may be surprised to know that up to very recently, Kai led the entire league in goals this season. That is until Bedard returned from playing in the World Juniors to regain the lead. But even with Connor coming back, Uchacz has been able to keep pace with him trailing Bedard currently by just one goal (Bedard 39, Uchacz 38)! This feat is something that no other player in the league has even come close to achieving, and yes, that includes the other players listed above who will most likely all go in the first round of the draft this summer.

So, by now, hopefully, I have caught your attention enough so that you’re contemplating to yourself, who is this Kai Uchacz, and how is it that I haven’t heard of him if he can keep up with a generational talent such as Connor Bedard? As I stated earlier, he is 19 years old, which means he is a bit of a late bloomer. Last season for the Rebels, Kai put up just 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in his first year of draft eligibility. A decent season, but by no means one that should have gotten him drafted. So, what’s changed this year? If I had to take a guess, it would be that Kai has figured out how to utilize his size better. Uchacz now stands at 6’1 and 192 pounds giving him not only the size and physicality it takes to get into the dirty areas to win puck battles or jockey for position in front of the net, but his attributes make it easier for him to guard the puck when he skates through the oppositions’ defense on his way to the net as well. However, while his newfound size and strength have proved beneficial, it’s not all Uchacz has to hang his hat on. Kai also possesses a great hockey sense and an innate ability to play off the puck. What do I mean by this? Uchacz commonly finds ways to wander away from the masses and await a nice saucer pass from a teammate for an uncontested shot on goal. To go along with that, when a teammate is breaking into the offensive zone and is able to rip a nice shot on net, Kai always wands up instinctively in the exact position for the puck to rebound right onto the blade of his stick for an easy put-back.

Uchacz is currently scoring at a 1.40 points-per-game pace this season, totaling 38 goals and 25 assists for 63 points in just 45 games played. If he keeps up this pace, he is projected to finish the season with 57 goals and 38 assists for 95 points. What a difference a year makes, right? That’s why it would seem that being forced to take another year to continue to grow and refine his skills may not have been such a bad idea after all. While his age will see to it that he may not get the acclaim some others listed in this article will get from being selected in the first round this summer, his play this season should at least afford him the opportunity of an NHL team taking a chance on him during the latter part of day two down in Nashville.