Already member? Login first!

Comments / New

Former Lightning prospect, Ilya Usau, signs with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL

Syracuse Crunch Ilya Usau (80) shoots and scores a goal against the Laval Rocket in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, October 28, 2023. Syracuse won 5-0. Photo by Scott Thomas (sthomasphotos.com)

When Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ilya Usau was put on waivers to have his contract terminated last month, the prevailing wisdom was that the Belarusian would be heading to the KHL. That notion was confirmed on Wednesday when he signed with Dinamo Minsk in the Russian league. The club announced the deal on their website (it is in Russian).

The 22-year-old returns to the Russian team where he first caught the eye of Lightning scouts when he put up 26 points (9 goals, 17 assists) as a 20-year-old in the 2021-22 season. Tampa Bay signed him to a three-year contract in March of 2022 to add to their diminished stable of prospects in Syracuse. The signing was a bit overshadowed by the fact that the Bolts had traded Mathieu Joseph to Ottawa for Nick Paul on the same day, but it was, on paper, a nice pick up for the organization.

While Usau (also spelled Usov in some places) had spent the recent time playing European hockey and in the KHL, he wasn’t totally unfamiliar with the North American game as he had been raised in Colorado, played prep hockey in the States and spent one season in the WHL with the Prince Albert Raiders where he put up 22 goals and 30 assists in 58 games.

Unfortunately, after a decent rookie season with the Crunch in 2022-23 where he put up 4 goals and 12 assists in 57 games, he failed to build on that last year. He had 14 points in 47 games, but played sparingly in the second half of the season and didn’t crack the line-up in the playoffs. Had he stuck in the organization he might have cracked this year’s Top 25 Under 25 after missing out in 2022 and 2023 (hey, the cupboard is pretty bare!)

While the move back to the KHL does put a bit of a damper on his NHL prospects, he is still young enough to stay on the radar for some teams and could come back if he continues to produce points for his club. If he does come back, he will be an unrestricted free agent as the Lightning relinquished their rights to him by terminating the contract. Lightning fans might recognize one of his new teammates as former Bolt Alexander Volkov scored 19 goals for them last season.

Despite Usau heading back to the KHL, and Hugo Alnefelt’s supposed return to Sweden, don’t think the Lightning are going to stop signing European prospects. The transfer rules from the leagues allow them to add seasoned professionals to either the big club or to the Crunch. It’s a good way to add immediate help without having to wait for players to develop. Sometimes it works (Emil Lilleberg). Sometimes it doesn’t. General Manager Julien BriseBois will continue to use all of the avenues available to him to add depth to the organization and signing European/Russian free agents is a path available to him.

By ending his contract early, the Lightning freed up a contract spot. According to Cap Friendly, they have 32 of their 50 contract spots filled. Five of those spots will likely be filled easily by re-signing their minor-league restricted free agents. Some spots will also be used to sign an unrestricted free agent or two (cough, Steven Stamkos, cough) while they also need to sign prospects like McKade Webster and possibly Nick Capone. If Eamon Powell reverses his decision to return to Boston College, they will need a spot for him as well.

The summer rolls on as the NHL combine is going on in Buffalo right now. With just 100 players invited to workout in front of scouts, the chances of the Lightning drafting any of those players is slim, but you never know.

After the combine, the next important date is up in the air. Forty-eight hours after the final Stanley Cup Final game, the first buyout window for teams opens up and runs through June 30th. That is also the date for teams to tender qualifying offers to their pending RFAs. By then we’re likely to know about Stamkos’ future and the Lightning’s plans for free agency.

So enjoy the Stanley Cup Final and the next couple of weeks before the real fun kicks off!

If you enjoyed this article please consider supporting RawCharge by subscribing here, or purchasing our merchandise here.

Support RawCharge by using our Affiliate Link when Shopping Hockey Apparel !