After being drafted last month, Matt Ustaski has to be ready.
The Glenview native and Lake Forest Academy grad was selected 192nd overall in the NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets. Though he will play college hockey for Wisconsin, the Jets could sign him to a professional contract at any time over the next four years — even in the middle of the season.
Ustaski will not be on edge.
“I hope to have a really good year and take it by a year-to-year basis,” he said. “I have four years of eligibility here, so there’s really no rush to go into pro hockey.”
Ustaski is a big center who dominates faceoffs and displays remarkable quickness and hand-eye coordination.
“He’s got very, very good hands, especially for a big man, and an extremely good shot,” said Darrin Madeley, Ustaski’s coach at Lake Forest Academy. “He’s a monster. He’s 6-6, 225. You can’t teach size.”
Over the last two years he played for the Langley Rivermen in the British Columbia Hockey League, a Canadian Junior “A” circuit. After a solid 2013 season, Ustaski impressed in 2014 with 49 points and 29 goals in 54 games. He learned about the hockey lifestyle, how to singularly focus on a sport.
“I really learned over the two years that if you’re just playing a sport and you’re not attending school, and your job is basically to play a sport, that you better come ready and be prepared every day,” Ustaski said.
He turned down the option of returning to the Rivermen for a third season, instead opting to attend Wisconsin — a school with top-notch facilities and an experienced coaching staff. Ustaski and his family believe Wisconsin gives him the best chance of reaching the NHL someday.
Ustaski’s already had a taste of the NHL. He attended the draft in Philadelphia, and knew when his name was called, though he didn’t hear it because as soon as the announcer said his junior team, commotion and emotion ensued. He met the coaches and top brass within the Jets organization. He received a hat and jersey, took a bunch of photos and participated in radio interviews.
The day was a dream realized for Ustaski, who’s played hockey in various leagues since he was 3.
Ustaski’s mother, Lynn, thinks the prospect of playing in the NHL will keep Ustaski focused and motivated in college.
“I think it will only make him play stronger, knowing that his ability has to be at the top, all the time,” she said.