Brehdan Engum made his USHL debut on Friday night, filling in one of the holes left open by the many scratches in the Central Illinois Flying Aces lineup. The team had two defensemen out, one suspended and one injured. To fill the role of a seventh defenseman, the team recalled Engum from Burnsville High School.
This year, Engum has played in 25 high school games. In those, the 6’1″ defenseman has totaled 18 points. Last season Engum put together a similarly impressive year, netting 23 points in 25 games with Burnsville. The 17-year-old has also played with ‘Team Southwest’ in Minnesota’s elite club hockey league.
What Shined Through in Brehdan Engum’s USHL Debut
Engum is tendered with the Minnesota Magicians, of the NAHL. He was also drafted by the Sioux Falls Stampede in the 2016 Futures Draft. He fell to 105 overall, drafted after a decent freshman year at Burnsville High School. The Flying Aces acquired the rights to Engum in a trade with Sioux Falls prior to this season.
Engum was ranked as a ‘C Level Player’ by SB Nation’s yearly ‘Players to Watch’ article. This is the same that fellow Flying Ace, Calen Kiefiuk, holds. The article was published in May of 2017, and it’s looking like Engum has stayed at the level predicted. While he has been less productive in his high school appearances, the USHL is a huge step in his career.
Making the Jump to the USHL
The jump from high school hockey to the top tier in U.S. major juniors is not an easy one. Engum said of Friday’s game, “I thought the game went pretty well. It will take a bit to get used to the speed and making plays at full speed at this level… I think it’ll take a few more games to get used to, a couple more weeks of practice but I think I can play at this level.”
USHL Debut Broken Down
Engum had a strong showing in his first major-juniors game. On top of the few defensemen scratched, second-pair defenseman Corson Green fell victim to an injury in the first three minutes of the game. While Green wasn’t taken out of the game, he did miss a few minutes. Sebastian Dirven, Green’s partner, also had a rough first period. This led to Engum getting a lot of time as the first period winded down. This included a shift that lasted over two minutes, as the period came to an end.
The second period was hard on the team as a whole. They allowed two goals, that could’ve been easily avoided, and only fired back with one of their own. One goal can be pinned of Engum. The inexperienced defenseman was slow with his backward cross-overs and got easily passed up as a result. The play ended with the puck in the back of the Aces’ net. He was benched immediately following the goal and didn’t see the ice for a few minutes. In his shifts to follow, he seemed razzled.
It was clear that the pressure was starting to get to him. In a game that was growing more-and-more physical, Engum was worrying too much about trying to finish his hits. This gave the Fargo Force a great scoring opportunity at one point when he chased behind the net and left a player open in front. Luckily, Central Illinois goalie Ryan Snowden made a great point-blank save.
Bright Spots in the Second
The middle period wasn’t all bad for Engum, though. While he did have a few mistakes, there were also a few times where he did a great job of redeeming himself. After whiffing on a breakout pass, Engum did a good job of regathering his position. This led to a very fast breakout. Engum was quick to join the rush and set up in the offensive zone. After a few good passes, his defensive partner was able to bury a shot from the blue line. While Engum didn’t end up with an assist on the play, his positioning in both zones was key to the eventual goal.
A few shifts later, Engum showed off a lot of confidence with the puck. He found the puck in the defensive zone and skated up the boards. He was surprisingly quick while skating the puck; for a big, and young, defenseman. He blew past the backchecking Force players and into a 2-on-1 situation. Engum did a good job of waiting for the Force defenseman to commit to the weak side, then fired a hard shot into the goalie’s pads. The puck sprang back to Engum, who tried to wrap the puck around the net but was caught by a backchecking Force player. Even without a goal, the play flaunted a lot of offensive strengths. His puck-handling wasn’t extraordinary but was better-than-expected for the defenseman.
The third period started very well for Engum. He showed that he had gotten rid of any butterflies and was back to playing a strong game during his first shift. His puck movement was easily the highlight of his first shift. He did a great job of remaining diligent in the defensive end and read the ice well when it came to making a pass through the middle of the ice.
The rest of the period wasn’t as noteworthy. Engum saw limited ice time in a game that saw an increasing number of scrums in front of the net and various penalties. When he did see ice-time he was hard to judge. He seemed at home when the puck was on his stick. His passes were tape-to-tape virtually every time, and his ability to skate with the puck was consistently strong. When he didn’t have the puck Engum was out of place. Battles along the boards or in front weren’t nearly as well fought as they should’ve been with such a big body involved. Similarly, he was very hesitant when defending on any rushes. After missing a few hits in the second, Engum shied away from throwing the body around for the remainder of the game. His decisions always seemed a split second too late, though it was never enough to cost the team a goal.
Engum’s Playing Style Overall
Engum defined his playing style as a two-way defenseman. “I’d say two-way,” Engum said, “most of the time I defer to the defensive side of things. ”
He hit the nail squarely on the head with that definition. Engum was arguably one of the best Flying Aces when it came to consistently breaking out the puck, even with his limited ice time. His ability to move with the puck and deliver a great pass made him the ideal candidate when the team needed a quick breakout. Engum was well aware of this trait, too. “My skating has continued to improve. I think I see the ice really well. I like to start the offence from the defensive end.”
Engum’s biggest weaknesses are his abilities on defence. While the defenseman was great at sparking the offence with the breakout, or carrying the puck and finding the open man, he could’ve been stronger defensively. Most of these defensive lapses can be credited to the jump between high school and the USHL, but they’ll need to be hammered out before he’s able to reach the next level. He pointed out a lot of his weaknesses will be hammered out once he adjusts to the speed at this level, and is able to improve his skating to match.
What to Expect from Engum Moving Forward
Engum’s current high school season ended in a huge plus. He was announced as a finalist for the Reed Larson Award on Wednesday. This award is granted annually to the best defenseman in the Minnesota high school system. He’s ever humble about the award, though. He has a clear-cut idea of what he wants to do moving forward. “I really want to be able to play in this league.”
When asked if he stood a fighting chance, even with USHL veterans like Brady Smith and Charlie Raith returning to the lineup, Engum quickly said, “I do.” He continued with, “it’s going to be a tough road obviously. Everyone else in the defensive core has been in this league and established themselves in this league so it’s going to be tough going forward. But I always compete and I’m always up for a challenge.”
Engum is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft and could be a very late pick if he is able to continue progressing. Now that his high school season is over, Engum is eligible to finish the rest of the year with the Flying Aces. He is very determined to gain a roster spot. He could very well do that if he plays like he did on Friday. Engum assimilated into the Illinois life quickly, saying his new teammates did a good job of making him feel comfortable. A young player with a history of leadership roles, he’s already looking at what the team can improve on. With a lot of strengths in areas where the Aces need help, and the determination to flush out the rest of his game, Engum could become a very valuable asset for Central Illinois.