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William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of's celebration of Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles forward Kenta Isogai, a forward from Japan who led Wenatchee of the Western Hockey League in scoring this season and dreams of playing in the NHL.

Kenta Isogai has traveled to three continents in pursuit of an NHL dream.

The 19-year-old forward from Nagano, Japan, has passport stamps from Russia, Austria and the United States, countries where he and felt the competition could help prepare him to be an NHL player.

“If you want to play in the NHL you have to come here sooner or later,” Isogai said through an interpreter.

“Here” for Isogai was Washington State and playing for the Wenatchee of the Western Hockey League. He was Wenatchee's leading scorer this season with 88 points (31 goals, 57 assists in 64 games), led the team in goals and had a 12-game point streak (26 points; eight goals, 18 assists) from Dec. 31-Feb. 4. He was the team’s second-leading scorer in the WHL playoffs with eight points (four goals, four assists) in five games.

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Isogai (5-foot-10, 158 pounds) was named to the WHL’s U.S. Division First All-Star Team in March.

“He’s a special hockey player, that’s for sure,” Wenatchee assistant coach Chris Clark said. “Just his ability to see the ice. He plays without fear. He goes to the hard areas. He’s not the biggest guy out there, but he’s not afraid to take the puck to the net. For a guy that’s not that big, he doesn’t play to his size.”

Isogai said "a great environment" paved the way to a successful rookie season in the WHL.

“It’s a great team, great atmosphere," he said. "Just the team dynamics were great."

Isogai’s offensive prowess was good enough to put him at left wing on a line with Matt Savoie, selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 9 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and Conor Geekie, chosen by the Arizona Coyotes with the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft, before Savoie and Geekie left to play for Canada at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Wenatchee signed Isogai on Aug. 22, 2023 after it sethey selected him in the first round (No. 60) of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft from Youngstown of the United States Hockey League, where he played from 2020-23.

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He had 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) in 163 USHL games and helped Youngstown win the league’s Clark Cup championship last season with five points (one goal, four assists) in nine playoff games.

“You could see right away that the talent level was there,” Clark said. “You could see very early on in training camp that he was going to be a special player. The talent level was there, and he kept building on that and building on that.”

Youngstown chose selected Isogai in the fourth round (No. 51) of the 2020 USHL Futures Draft after he played for Okanagan HC Europe’s Under-18 Red and Under-20 teams in Austria in 2019-20.

Youngstown had positive experiences with Japan-born players like Yushiroh Hirano, a forward who in 2015 became the USHL’s first player who was born in that nation, and Yusaku Ando, who joined Youngstown in 2019-20. 

Hirano went on to play two seasons with Abbotsford of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, from 2021-23, and this season played for Adirondack of the ECHL.

“That obviously helped that first year, because it had already been his third country,” Tsukasa Arinami, an agent for Isogai, said of Youngstown.

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Isogai said his family moved from Japan to Russia when he was 11 “for a better hockey environment” before heading to Austria and North America to hone his craft.

“Training and just trying to get stronger was a big adjustment off the ice, and also English,” Isogai said through Arinami. “Going from Japanese to Russian to German and then to English is definitely a change.”

Isogai hopes all the travel will one day help him get to the NHL, though he’s not on NHL Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters eligible for the 2024 draft June 28-29 at Sphere in Las Vegas.

Going undrafted, Isogai said he’d explore opportunities playing in other professional leagues while pursuing his dream.

“Obviously the big goal is the NHL,” he said.