Adam Ingram is not a betting man, but four months ago he took a small risk.
He moved 2,000 kilometres from home to play in the USHL. There were no guarantees for the kid from West St. Paul.
"The big reason for coming down here was I wasn’t too sure if COVID was still going to be a factor back home," said Ingram by phone Thursday afternoon. "I mean, it turned out that it hasn’t been but I didn’t want to take that risk again and miss another year of hockey."
The rookie left-winger has quickly reaped the benefits of challenging himself at a higher level.
After playing only eight games with the Selkirk Steelers in a pandemic-abbreviated 2020-21 season, he’s been tearing up the USHL as a member of the Youngstown Phantoms. Currently ninth in league scoring, he leads the Phantoms and all league rookies in goals (16) and points (35) in 26 games.
On Wednesday, NHL Central Scouting named him the 14th best prospect among North American skaters in its mid-season report.
"The USHL is difficult league to put up points and he’s come in and he gradually got better and better," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "When you watch him it’s just the way he carries himself on the ice. It’s remarkable the confidence and poise and presence that he has when he has the puck. He’s got good instincts to the net and good finishing touch. And he’s a good playmaker."
"The big reason for coming down here was I wasn’t too sure if COVID was still going to be a factor back home." – Adam Ingram
Because of a late birthday, he turned 18 on Oct. 14, Ingram’s eligibility for the draft had been pushed back until 2022. He’s capitalized on the delay by growing taller and getting stronger.
He’s now 6-2 1/2, 170 pounds and still growing. Projected as a possible third- or fourth-round pick in September, he appears to be a likely first-rounder now.
Ingram, Marr said, displays an eerily similar skill set to former Phantoms standout Kyle Connor, now with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
"At that same age, (he has) that same on-ice presence, the same offensive instincts and contribution in game," said Marr. "I see a lot of similarities but how he develops going forward, we’ll wait and see but I’m just saying at the same age he’s the same height and the same weight."
"When you watch him it’s just the way he carries himself on the ice. It’s remarkable the confidence and poise and presence that he has when he has the puck. He’s got good instincts to the net and good finishing touch. And he’s a good playmaker." – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting
Ingram said the improvements are all part of the plan.
"I’d definitely say my hockey sense and even my skating has gotten a lot better — and my shot," said Ingram, the son of highly respected golf coach Derek Ingram. "I’ve been working with Riley Dudar (at Evolution Hockey) and he’s been unbelievable. We work together a lot in the summer and this summer saw some major steps forward."
Truth be told, Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson had modest expectations before Ingram arrived in town.
The club had chosen him in the 11th round of the 2021 USHL Entry Draft — casting a wide net. Ingram had played only eight games, scoring two goals and seven points, with the MJHL’s Steelers during the pandemic truncated 2020-21 season.
"We talk to these (scouts) on a daily basis, whether it be from Central Scouting or NHL clubs. They’re showing up a little bit more often — they’re not catching every third game, they’re catching every game." – Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson
Consequently, the video record of Ingram’s on-ice work was small.
"I thought he was good, probably a guy we’d see for two years and then goes on to college as a really good player after Year 2," said Patterson.
"He came into our training camp — and we probably have 160, 170 kids come in from all over the world — and immediately showed great mobility, great scoring touch, great with the puck, good separation speed — all the things that you’re looking for a player to make that jump to our league. He definitely had it."
A point-per-game player with the Winnipeg AAA U18 Thrashers in 2019-20, Ingram went undrafted by the WHL but was protected by the Red Deer Rebels.
Last summer, he decided to go the NCAA route and committed to St. Cloud State University.
In Youngstown, he’s been playing on a line with centre Jaden Grant and right-winger Kyle Bettens, a fellow Manitoban, and his reputation has grown. So have the numbers of NHL scouts watching the games.
That success could translate into only one season in the USHL before he goes to college.
"We talk to these (scouts) on a daily basis, whether it be from Central Scouting or NHL clubs," said Patterson. "They’re showing up a little bit more often — they’re not catching every third game, they’re catching every game."
Ingram, who finished second in the Manitoba Junior Men’s Golf Championship last summer, plans to ease off his off-season passion.
"It kind of came to the point where I had to pick between golf and hockey and obviously it’s hockey," he said. "I’m still gonna play golf in summer for fun. I’ll play in a few tournaments for fun but not going to take it as seriously as I have in the past."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.