2020-21 Team: Youngstown Phantoms (#12)
Date of Birth: Sept. 3, 2003
Place of Birth: Tomakomai, Japan
Wt: 148 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligibility
Yusaku Ando has a chance to make history this year.
Throughout the history of the NHL draft, the league has seen two Japanese players drafted. Well, three players, if you want to include the fictional Taro Tsujimoto drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1974. Defenseman Hiroyuki Miura was the first, drafted 260th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1992, and the second was Yutaka Fukufuji, drafted 238th overall in 2004 by the Los Angeles Kings.
If all goes according to plan and he finishes his USHL season strong, Ando will look to become only the third native Japanese player to be drafted by an NHL team. This isn’t including NHL players of Japanese descent, such as Nick Suzuki.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Hailing from Tomakomai, Japan, Ando moved to Canada at the age of 13 to pursue a career in hockey. He played Triple-A as a 15-year-old for the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy, notching a combined 90 points in 55 games. He also represented Japan at the U18 Division 1B World Hockey Championships, putting up six points in five games.
The following year, to kick off the 2019-20 USHL season, Ando’s real development began. Playing for the Youngstown Phantoms, he had an impressive rookie season with 25 points in 40 games. He also represented Japan once again at the Division 2A U20 World Juniors, finishing fourth on his team with eight points in five games.
In his sophomore season with the Phantoms, his production dipped, albeit not by much. He finished the season with 23 points in 45 games. To be fair, though, the Phantoms were the worst team in the USHL this season, and it wasn’t close. So that likely played a big part in his dip in production. Still, he finished fourth on his team in scoring as a 16-year-old behind three 19-year-olds.
He had more points in 2019-20 of any 16-year-old in the USHL and was only outscored by two other 16-year-olds throughout the entire USNTDP, who each had one more point than Ando. His impressive rookie season was enough to earn Ando a commitment to Minnesota State University for the 2021-22 season.
Ando’s size will likely be his downfall heading into the 2021 NHL Draft, standing at only 5-foot-7 and 148 pounds. Having said that, he’s a very deceptive, creative player, and he’s a very good playmaker. And the fact that he has a late birthday will only help his case, as he won’t turn 18 until Sept. 3.
Even if Ando only tops out as an AHLer, or even a D1 NCAA player, it’s surely going to be a big step forward for Japan and their development as a hockey country to produce a player like him. And you would have to imagine there are teams out there who would at least consider taking a flyer on him with a late-round pick.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Yusaku Ando – NHL Draft Projection
Ando’s rankings as of now obviously don’t look promising, but because we’re still a few months away from the draft, most scouts and analysts aren’t releasing rankings past the fourth round. I’ll bet you’ll start to see Ando’s name appear in mock drafts and rankings as we get closer, and I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suggest that he’ll go somewhere between the 4th and 7th round.
“Ando has a short, soft stride. Does not get real deep in his stride and lacks the strength right now. He does show nice agility and can flip his hips in transition with ease. Being 148 pounds right now, he should see a strength gain in his legs. Ando does a nice job with the puck on his stick. Puck looks like it’s glued to his blade. He has soft, quick hands.” -Ray Napientek, FC Hockey
Ando is extremely agile and light on his feet, utilizing his edges to create space and play with a level of deception. Yet at the same time, he lacks power in his stride, resulting in short, choppy steps, albeit extremely quick ones, rather than a smooth flow. This likely comes from a lack of leg strength and Ando has to compensate with many steps. Hopefully, he can put some mass and build this strength. His hands match his quick feet, showing some excellent puckhandling and an impressive shot that he gets off of his stick in a flash. His combination of quick feet and hands are evident in his small-area game.” -Josh Bell, FC Hockey
Under Construction – Improvements To Make
There’s one real aspect to Ando’s game that he’ll have to round out if he wants to make it in pro hockey, and that’s his size. 148 pounds obviously isn’t sustainable, but at only 17 years old, there’s lots of time for him to gain some extra muscle. Other than that, maybe some work on his defensive game, which will likely come with physical growth.
If a team takes a chance on Ando and he develops without any real kinks, I think he could cap out as a third-line scoring forward. His hands and skating fit today’s style of hockey, but again, it will all come back to how much muscle he can add.
Risk – 2/5, Reward 3/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 6/10, Defence 3/10
Ando was the goal-scoring leader for his Triple-A team in 2018-19 and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He also collected a gold medal at the U18 Division 1B World Juniors and the U20 Division 2A World Juniors.
Yusaku Ando Statistics
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.