Top 25 Under 25, #21: Connor Ingram is the first goalie to make the list
The Kamloops Blazers two-time MVP debuts on the list at 21st.
The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the RawCharge writing staff. Four writers, plus a special guest, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked, plus Honorable Mentions.
In 2016, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Connor Ingram in the third round of the entry draft at 88th overall. In his draft season and the season after, he was selected Most Valuable Player of his Juniors team, the Kamloops Blazers, garnering a 2.68 GAA and .918 SV% in 158 WHL games played. After the Blazers’ season was finished in March, Ingram signed an Entry Level Contract with the Bolts — and due to his age, is now eligible to play for the Syracuse Crunch next season. And the Crunch is where he’ll start his professional career.
At 6'1, Ingram is not the tallest goaltender Tampa Bay has ever signed, but he's tall enough. Forced to tend goal for his older brothers at an early age, he stuck with hockey long after his brothers left the game.
I (like a fair number of the American hockey-watching world) mostly observed Ingram play in the World Junior Championships -- and at the conclusion of the tournament, I felt a bit skeptical about his skill. In the semi-finals against Sweden, for example, perhaps the pressure got to Ingram, because he let in two goals on three shots. Coach Dominique Ducharme pulled him, and Carter Hart went on to win the game for Canada. In all, Ingram won two games along the way to Canada's silver medal.
But Ingram’s goalie coach addressed this in an article after the WJC, causing me to reflect upon the assessment I’d made from a small sample size:
The goalie coach of the Kamloops Blazers is still proud of Connor Ingram's performance in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, even though the young netminder was pulled from the game after just eight minutes.
The Kamloops player started in net for Canada in the semi-finals against Sweden, but was pulled after he let in two goals on three shots. Carter Hart was substituted in for Ingram and Canada downed Sweden 5-2.
"You're sitting there and you're a little gut wrenched for him, but knowing Connor and knowing what he's about and knowing that one day doesn't define you...you don't live on one shutout," said goaltending coach Dan De Palma.
'Not many people get the opportunity to start a hockey game in the semi-final of that tournament," he said.
"You have to do a lot of good things for a long time to put yourself in that spot regardless of how it goes."
Is Ingram a good goaltender who still has some maturing to do to be mentally tough enough for international attention? Perhaps. When he returned to the Blazers from the WJC, Ingram brought the team to playoffs, and had an SV% of .946 before the Rockets were eliminated in six games. Whatever went wrong, it was not likely due to Ingram, who also earned the best regular-season SV% in the WHL.
Most recently, we saw Ingram at development camp, stopping the puck during three-on-three battles. In-arena reporter Caley Chelios caught him after a scrimmage, and Ingram proved that he has maintained his sense of humor despite his rookie nerves.
Chelios: Al Murray said you're used to taking 40-plus shots a night in the league you were in before, but obviously three-on-three is not fun for a goaltender. What was that experience like for you as well?
Ingram: yeah it's always a lot of fun. It's pretty serious, they take it pretty serious out there, so it's enjoyable. It's the first kind of competitive hockey I've played in three or four months, so it was a lot of fun.
Chelios: How does it feel to win with that team?
Ingram: I had no idea what was going on, even. I was just trying not to throw up out there.
TeslaCoils, who observed him at camp, had this to say about his skill:
INGRAM, Connor – 2016 Draft - definitely the top goalie prospect to me. Very good puck tracking, excellent lateral movement, flexible and athletic.
Welcome to 21st on the Top 25 Under 25, Connor Ingram! May you work your way swiftly up!