Doesn’t everyone love a good under-the-radar NHL Draft story?
Take West St. Paul’s Adam Ingram, for example.
Three years ago, he was cut by the AAA U18 Winnipeg Thrashers but he’s a stubborn sort and didn’t treat that rejection as a stop sign.
Instead, he transformed himself from an average-sized prospect with zero hype into a better player with enormous potential, leading the Winnipeg Hawks and the Winnipeg AAA U17 league with 64 points in 35 games. Early next month, the 18-year-old centre is expected to be one of the first 60 picks at the NHL Draft extravaganza in Montreal.
Scouts love his stature, powerful shot and skating, even if a full-grown pro prospect has yet to emerge. In full hockey gear, the 6-foot-2 Ingram has all the appearances of a high-end player, but after his first full season of junior hockey he still only tips the scales at 161 pounds.
Ingram piled up a team-high 26 goals and 55 points in 54 games for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms during the 2021-22 season — the second-best point total for any first-year player in the league.
During a pandemic-limited 2020-21 season, he played only eight games for the MJHL’s Selkirk Steelers. A year earlier, despite being sidelined with a broken wrist, he was a point-per-game player with the AAA U18 Thrashers.
"I think going to Youngstown was pretty big for me just because it was a huge step up from the MJHL and it’s a good step for college hockey," said Ingram recently. "Almost every guy that plays in that league goes on to play college hockey… I wasn’t too sure about what to expect going into the year but I scored in the first game and it gave me a little bit of confidence. I knew I fit in well there."
Ingram did not need a full season in the USHL to attract interest from NCAA schools. He developed a following from college scouts watching Youngstown’s July training camp and quickly made a commitment to attend St. Cloud (Minn.) State this fall.
The Huskies, with former Brandonite Dave Shyiak on head coach Brett Larson’s staff as an associate coach, had an early line on Ingram. Shyiak had heard rave reviews from Selkirk head coach Hudson Friesen, who played for Shyiak at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
"He’s your consummate late-bloomer and he’s still growing so it’s going to take time for him to put the necessary muscle on his body frame," said Shyiak of Ingram. "He’s going to need that longer window to get to where he wants to get to, which ultimately is the NHL."
Ingram should have an opportunity to contribute early in his college career. The Huskies, who went to the Frozen Four national championship game in the spring of 2021, have lost five veteran forwards to graduation.
"I committed right after the main camp... and there were a bunch of teams that were interested there but before that I only had St. Cloud reach out," said Ingram. "I think the colleges are starting to realize that there are players that are really good from the MJHL and they’re finding them. I think (the MJHL) probably had six or seven guys commit to Division I schools this year."
Ingram’s development comes as no surprise to Riley Dudar, owner and director of player development of Winnipeg’s Evolution Hockey.
Dudar, who also tutors local standouts such as NHL prospect Owen Pickering, a blue-liner from St. Adolphe, and centre Jayden Perron, a University of North Dakota commit from Winnipeg, has a long history with Ingram.
"He’s obviously getting better but he’s still a very similar player," said Dudar of Ingram. "It’s just that he grew. Everything’s kind of coming together; it’s long-term athlete development at its finest. He was always a good player but it’s not like he was a standout all the time, but he just kept getting better and better."
Dudar points to Ingram’s work during the pandemic shutdown in 2020-21 as a turning point for his offensive game, particularly his goal-scoring. In Youngstown, the left-handed shooter displayed an ability to score from distance; he was a dangerous shooter from either the right or left flank.
Ingram, a standout junior golfer whose father Derek Ingram serves as coach of Canada’s national golf team, has benefitted from being around elite-level athletes.
"As he matured a little bit, he started to realize, ‘I can do more things on my own,’" said Dudar. "I mean, we’re in the pandemic, so you could have sat there and played video games or you could use the time to your advantage. Having his dad (there) really helps. He’s someone to look up to who’s an elite-level coach who works with elite level athletes. Having that role model around is very, very important."
Ingram also proved to be a conscientious defender as a USHL rookie.
"From a defensive standpoint, he could match up against anybody," said former Phantoms head coach and general manager Brad Patterson. "He played in all situations although he didn’t kill a ton (of penalties) for us, but really took an onus on playing in areas that weren’t as sexy to be in. And really he met those challenges head on."
Moving to the college level where he will have access to a NCAA-calibre training and facilities should be the best possible preparation for the pro game.
"I can see where when it’s all said and done that he’s 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and in really good shape in the next two, three or four years with high skill and high intelligence," said Dudar. "He can do a lot."
Mike Sawatzky Reporter
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
College program: St. Cloud (Minn.) State in 2022-23
WHL Prospects Draft: Undrafted but WHL rights protected by Red Deer Rebels
NHL Central Scouting: ranked 27th among North American skaters (down from 14th at mid-season)
Quotable: “Other people haven’t necessarily believed in him like we have and so it’s just nice to kind of see that validation from our end,” said Evolution Hockey’s Riley Dudar. “We see that this player is a really good player but I’m also super proud and happy for him that like the right people are noticing that.”