The Ducks had to be salivating after watching Illo, a Bystrica, Slovakia native, smoothly transition to the North American game with Tri-City of the USHL from 2008 thru 2010. Illo had a knack for finding the back of net in the Tier I junior hockey league, totaling 45 goals and 31 assists in 97 games.
Yet, since Illo’s USHL outbreak he has yet to see that kind of production at the collegiate level with Bemidji State. The junior has just 13 goals and 14 assists in 75 games.
“It’s a different animal over here,” Illo said. “Everybody is really talented and they’re a lot of big defensemen. There is a lot of backchecking in this league and it’s guy-on-guy.”
“Obviously I would like to get more goals,” he added. “But I am trying to work my butt off to get some opportunities.”
Linemate Aaron McLeod believes Illo, who has two goals and an assist through six games, is close to breaking out of his offensive slump.
“Everyone gets frustrated when you can’t score,” McLeod said. “He’s got a couple of goals this year. He’s getting chances. He hit a post (against Colorado College) and he got a couple more shots on goal. Those will start going in.”
Despite the lack of goals at the NCAA level, Illo still flashes the offensive skill and brilliance that caused the Ducks to draft the 5'11” left winger. He also features one of the Beavers' most powerful left-handed shots and has great speed on the ice.
“He is just really explosive,” McLeod said. “He can get up and down the sheet really quickly. That’s probably his biggest attribute other than shooting.”
Coach Tom Serratore understands Illo is still adjusting to the collegiate game and believes that the Beavers need to find a way to get their offensive stud in a position to succeed.
“Rado is more of a shooter,” Serratore said. “His success comes when he gets his shot off. The game is a tough adjustment right now. He is still figuring it out, but when he gets some time in space his shot is definitely his best weapon.”
Last year as a sophomore, Illo made improvements in his game and finished with a career-best seven goals and 10 assists.
“I think I understand more about college hockey now,” Illo said. “My freshman year I just tried to make quick plays and was under pressure a lot. Now I realize I have a little more time and am trying to make some plays.”
Illo is giving the Ducks a glimpse of the future and what his role may be at the professional level: a power-play specialist.
The first Slovakian to play for the Beavers has spent the past two years running the point of the BSU power-play unit, finishing fourth last year on the Beavers in scoring (3g-6a) with the man advantage.
During his final season with Tri-City, Illo notched 11 goals and 13 assists on the power play, 55.8 percent of his total offensive production.
So, even though he may be struggling at full strength, Illo’s success has always seemingly come on the power play.
He is looking to help kick-start a Beaver’s power-play unit that is 5-for-30 this season.
“I’m trying to get some shots through or grab a couple of rebounds,” said the business major with an emphasis in small business entrepreneurship. “We just have to make sure it goes through the goalie and we get goals out of it, otherwise it’s pointless. We just have to work harder to get those juicy rebounds.”
Along with continuing to be a presence on the power play, Illo wants to continue to work on his two-way game so that he can hopefully one day make his NHL debut.
“On a daily basis I’m learning how to become a better defensive guy in the zone and try to backcheck my guys,” Illo said. “I’m trying to do my best and I have two more years. I am trying to play as much as possible and play my best and become a pro hockey player.”
Follow Justin Felisko at Twitter via @jfelisko