The Montreal Canadiens are undergoing a revolution on the blue line. It is a movement spearheaded by Kaiden Guhle and his three fellow NHL debutants, supported by those who would follow in their footsteps such as Lane Hutson and his extraordinary current NCAA campaign. While Hutson draws the plaudits in North America, another young defender, Adam Engström, has quietly made a name for himself on the rinks of the SHL.
Engström is used to being out of the spotlight. After all, he was overshadowed last season by Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Noah Östlund, and Calle Odelius when playing with Djurgården’s U20 team. This led to tempered expectations when he moved to Rögle BK in the off-season. This season was supposed to be another development year, largely with the U20 squad, with the hope of a few SHL or Champions Hockey League games sprinkled in here and there.
However, Engström is developing a habit of rising to the occasion and seizing the opportunities that he has been given. With Rögle, he de facto graduated from the Junior team within the first month, starting initially as the seventh defender for the main squad and then moving up the lineup rapidly. With Team Sweden at the World Juniors, he gradually asserted his importance to the selection, becoming one of the Juniorkronorna’s most important blue-liners in the medal round.
A relaxed and happy Engström sat down to talk with Eyes on the Prize on Valentine’s Day after a closely fought 4-3 victory over SHL leaders Skellefteå AIK.
“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster for the team, but personally, I think I have been taking steps forward the whole time. I have tried to further my development every day — I have practised hard, I have practised a lot, and I think it’s showing,” a quietly confident Engström replied when prompted about his general impressions of his first professional season. “I feel good, especially as the team has started to win.”
When asked what he is most happy about, Engström’s self-belief and commitment shines through. “I am very happy that I never stopped my development — that I have never been satisfied and that I have always wanted to progress. When I reached the next level, I always wanted to continue further.”
Engström’s offensive numbers are the first thing that draw the eye. He currently sits second in SHL rookie scoring, behind only Filip Bystedt (San Jose Sharks, 2022 27th overall). When it comes to U20 scoring, the Canadiens’ prospect sits fourth behind a trio of centres: Bystedt, Rögle teammate Marco Kasper (Detroit Red Wings, 2022 8th overall), and wunderkind Leo Carlsson. Not too shabby for a third-round selection who was a virtual unknown when the Habs took him.
Engström’s youth and inexperience does catch up with him on the ice occasionally. That said, it is clear that Engström’s defensive game is his biggest improvement this season. The blue-liner happily points that that he’s gotten better “along the boards, in front of the net, and in [his] positioning.” Engström gives kudos to Rögle’s coaching staff, singling assistant coach David Printz’s role in “hammering [him]” on his gap control. The youngster is even translating defensive principles to his offensive game, noting that he is working on how to play the blue line. “I’ve practised a lot of shots, [and also] how to open the ice for both myself and my teammates.”
Skaplig återkomst i den grönvita dressen för nummer 10 pic.twitter.com/NQ3NAEaPZw— Rögle BK (@roglebk) February 14, 2023
Engström (number 56 in the video above) generated an assist for himself against Skellefteå AIK by keeping the opposing player away from the puck and creating space for himself — a key skill to have at the NHL level. “I’ve always had [that skill], whether here or with Djurgårdens. I think I’ve progressed a lot [with it] here. It’s something I work on with [Rögle U20 coach] Mats Bohlin,” said Engström when asked about it. “I have to keep the puck as far away from the opponent as possible, to protect it, but also to do something with it. To create space to get a better opportunity, and then succeed with that opportunity, whether it’s a shot or a pass.”
Rögle head coach Cam Abbott has described Engström as a “rink rat”, and commented that he has had to “force [him] out of the practice rink at times.” True to form, Engström is currently practising with both the pro and U20 squads.
Is there such a thing as too much practice? Engström doesn’t think so.
“I need to be [at the rink] everyday, to do extra practices as well, especially to take further steps defensively. It’s what has gotten me here. [Coach Abbott] stops me from time to time, but I like being here, and I have the results to show from it as well. The three separate rinks that we have is a huge plus, and I have been able to be on the ice a lot more than usual.”
Rögle, the top regular season squad in the SHL last season, is currently fighting for a playoff spot in what has been a bit of a disappointing campaign. However, an early exit opens the door for Montreal to bring Engström across the pond for the AHL playoffs, but first they need to sign him. If that doesn’t happen, Habs fans can look forward to their next opportunity to see more of Engström at development camp. The Canadiens better have an extra sheet of ice handy though, because Engström will always be looking for a way to keep moving forward.
We spoke to Adam Engström in his native Swedish. The quotes presented here have been translated and some sentences have been adjusted for clarity.