Grading Adam Engström's season: The defenceman blossomed into one of the Canadiens' top prospects
The 2022 third-round pick grew as the season went on, and ended up being a top-pairing defenceman at the end of it.
When the Montreal Canadiens made their selection at 92nd overall during the 2022 NHL Draft, there was a bit of a disappointment among the Bell Centre crowd that instead of calling the name of local player Jordan Dumais, an unknown Swede from the capital of Stockholm named Adam Engström was picked instead. Less than a year later, some fans (and our own Matt Drake) still mumble about Dumais. However, Adam Engström's name is not unknown anymore.
Engström was supposed to get a few games in the Champions Hockey League, before playing with Rögle's U20 team for the season. Eight months later, he stands out as the best player for Rögle in the SHL playoffs.
While the rise has been fast, it hasn't been that surprising for some. Chris Abbott said before the start of the season that 'Engström is the best defender born in 2003 in Sweden.' The fact that the prospect played behind Lekkerimäki, Öhgren, Östlund, and Odelius in Djurgården, and in a different role, seems to have made him invisible to scouts.
The Canadiens invited him to the European combine, which had already given Montreal players such as Jesse Ylönen and Alexander Romanov, where he stood out not only in his physical skills, but also as a leader. Engström's was an insightful selection that most likely will benefit Montreal down the line.
While he had a decent 2023 World Juniors, he was made to play a supporting role to Sandin-Pellikka. What can be taken away from the WJC performance is the same thing that we have seen the whole year: Engström has tenacity. You give him an inch and he takes a mile. He started out on the third pairing, and finished as a defensive anchor on the first pairing.
It was from the WJC and to the end of the season that Engström played his best hockey, and especially come the playoffs. He was made to drive play, to use his abilities to move the puck from his own end to the opposing zone. The way he can shield and protect the puck along with his size means that even seasoned professionals had trouble taking it away. He read the game extremely well, and created space for both himself and his teammates, thereby generating scoring chances for his team. He ended up being the best scorer and point-producer for his team. It seemed that the time when Rögle did threaten the opposing goal it was from Engström's play.
His game rests on the foundation of hockey IQ and skating. He reads the game well, he check his shoulders and can analyze the game in a fast setting. The way he can create space benefits teammates and himself alike, and he understands when to go forward and when to play cover, something not all Swedish defencemen do.
His skating is good. Technically, he bends his knees more or less perfectly to generate both forward and backward pace, though I still think his edge-work could use a bit of polish.
It is out of these things that he builds his game. His shot is good, often very well placed, both for direct shots and for tip-ins. He should add some pace to it, but the main thing is that he usually gets the shot on net, through traffic.
The weakness that stands out is his play in the own end, as he sometimes makes "puppy" mistakes, getting over-eager to engage an attacking forward or making a counting error and suddenly creating an advantage for the opponent. Part of this is that he has played with many different partners during the season. When he found a stable partner in Michael Kapla, his play in the defensive end was stronger. Some defensive issues are expected when there's a lack of experience playing in a better, stronger, and faster league.
Being 19, Engström also needs to build up his strength, both core and force. He still gets outmuscled in front of the net and along the boards, even if his balance on his skates helps him most of the time.
Few expected Engström to do this well in his first season as a pro. Out of the ones I have spoken to, it is maybe Rögle's GM Chris Abbott that has come closest. Even if the early season wasn't as much of a success as the latter part, Abbott was impressed to the degree that he offered the blue-liner a contract extension early in the fall.
Engström has taken steps in his development, and showcased some interesting attributes along the way: speed, hockey IQ and puck skills. It remains to be seen if he can build on this, and how he will progress his development in his defensive end, but in whatever light you look at this season, he has been outstanding. There is no other grade to give but an A.
We are joined by CMORE colour commentator, Expressen columnist, and former SHL player Sanny Lindström on the podcast,. He gives his thought on Engström and the season he has had, along with some other interesting tidbits.
You can find Sanny Lindström on Twitter here.