WHL Next Generation is a 22-part series highlighting a handful of the future stars of the Western Hockey League. From first-round bantam draft picks to later-blooming selections, get to know the names of players set to establish themselves as the newest crop of exciting talent to grace the WHL. From August 1 through August 31, get the inside scoop on the incoming rookie class of 2019-20.
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
Weight: 182 pounds
Draft: SEA (2018) Round: 1 (#10)
The last year and a half has been a whirlwind for Kai Uchacz. While his game has been consistent, proving his ability to adapt, the environment he’s played in, has not.
Let’s rewind to his bantam year where he played with the Okotoks Bantam AAA Oilers team in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL). Uchacz finished the season with 42 points (25G-17A), first overall on his team, and 18th overall in the league, but his team finished last in the Southern Division. A similar situation followed at the 2018 Alberta Cup when Uchacz competed with Team South, taking fifth place in the tournament. But personally, it was a success for Uchacz, finishing with 12 points (8G-4A) in five games.
While he was obviously successful during his time with the Oilers, it was Uchacz’s performance at the Alberta Cup that really tipped him over the edge in the Seattle Thunderbirds’ eyes. On May 3, 2018, the Thunderbirds selected Uchacz 10th overall at the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, showing their belief in his abilities.
“It was an amazing feeling to be selected by the Thunderbirds,” Uchacz said. “I was so excited to join them and get started.”After a successful training camp in the summer of 2018, Uchacz was ready for another season of challenge, heading into his first year as a midget player. However, similar to last season, he continued to face environmental adversity. Uchacz carried on with his personal success, registering 31 points (16G-15A) in 28 games with the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s (AMHL) Okotoks Oilers, but the squad followed suit of Uchacz’s previous team, coming second last in their division.
“I thought my season when pretty well overall, other than our team success,” the De Winton, Alta. product said. “There was a lot of adversity to handle, especially as a young guy, but it made me stronger.”
While it’s not necessarily the easiest challenge to tackle when you are young, adversity does grow and mature players, mostly to their benefit.
Uchacz continued to battle through the situation, becoming smarter, bigger and faster during his midget season and Seattle recognized that growth. Playing in five regular season and one playoff game, Uchacz was able to put the advancements he made in his game to good use.
“I was pretty nervous and excited to get the first game out of the way,” Uchacz said, “but it prepared me for next year too.”As far as we can tell, the nerves didn’t seem to bother Uchacz, jumping right into the speed and strength of the WHL without hesitation. In his fifth WHL game against the Portland Winterhawks, he even notched a goal and assist during the game, helping his team win the game and upset the Winterhawks’ chance of having home-ice advantage in the first round of WHL Playoffs.
“The goal was crazy, the next shift out, I couldn’t even feel my legs I was so excited,” Uchacz said. “I keep the puck in my room now which is pretty sweet too.”
After the ups-and-downs during his past few seasons, Uchacz is looking forward to what he hopes is a more stable environment with the Thunderbirds where he can continue to grow and most importantly, learn.
“I just want to play to the best of my abilities and get a really good start at camp,” Uchacz said, “But I know that I’m there to learn and take it all in.”