14. Vitaly Abramov (Reader Rank: 18, Last Year: N/A)
With all the new prospects entering the Senators’ pipeline, a few are bound to slip under the radar. Traded from Columbus as part of the package for Matt Duchene, Vitaly Abramov has plenty of potential to become an impactful NHLer.
At 21 years old, Abramov’s already had plenty of ups and downs in his career arc. Leaving Russia to join the QMJHL in his draft year, he quickly became a superstar for the Gatineau Olympiques, scoring 93 points in 63 games, and being named QMJHL Rookie of the Year. Normally that’d be a season a team would jump all over in the first round — his draft year points-per-game rate was higher than players like Timo Meier, Jakub Voracek and Anthony Beauvillier. Yet Abramov slipped all the way to the third round, with the Blue Jackets picking him up at 65th overall.
The reasoning for the slip? Size. At 5’9”, Abramov is on the shorter than most NHLers, which scared off a lot of teams. He felt like a lite version of Alex DeBrincat, another small player who fell to the second round earlier in the draft, despite his monstrous production. Many fans and pundits, myself included, heralded the pick as a steal.
The following two seasons were looking good for the Blue Jackets’ swing, as Abramov made himself as one of the best players in the QMJHL for not only those seasons, but in the league’s history. In 2016-17 he was named to the first all-star team, and in 2017-18 he led the entire league in on-ice goals-for per minute. He was consistently near the top of the league in both goals and expected goals, making him one of the NHL’s top prospects.
On top of the gaudy results, Abramov stood out as a flashy player who consistently made the highlight reel — quick foot speed combined with terrific edge work, solid vision of his teammates, and a fantastic wrist shot with a quick release. He played the typical style of a QMJHL winger, blazing down the boards past defenders and using all the space to make goals happen.
2018-19 took a bit of a turn for Abramov, however, as he played his first full season of pro hockey with the Cleveland Monsters and Belleville Senators. Instead of having the quick adjustment that his point totals would suggest, he was held to a mere 29 points in 70 games.
From what I saw of Abramov, the reason for the drop seemed pretty apparent: he couldn’t get away with everything he was doing in the QMJHL. The generous space he received along the boards in junior decreased drastically, forcing him into the middle where he was less comfortable.
It became clear that he needed to gain some strength if he plans to continue his play style against pro competition, and he seemed to progress as the year went on. His average goal distance in the QMJHL was pretty far, but by the end of the season with Belleville he would occasionally muscle his way in close successfully. In terms of his consistency, there’s still a ways to go.
The fundamentals of what make Abramov a great player are still there. He’s still as lethal a one-timer option as you can find, and he managed to snipe a sizeable amount of goals from improbable positions at the AHL level. He’s also fantastic at creating zone entries when he has the puck, although the systems his coaches used didn’t favour that happening very often.
His power play usage could’ve also been more favourable, as the full potential of his shot couldn’t be used when he was placed down low. With the sheer power and accuracy of his wrist shot, having him placed anywhere below the hash marks during the man advantage should be considered a sin.
Overall, I think the biggest need for Abramov is that he continues to adapt. He possesses the fundamentals of a potentially high-end NHLer — the speed, the shot, the vision. If he can find a way to work them into a more flexible strategy against stronger players, then the scoring will come naturally.
Below are two videos that I think illustrate the adjustment pretty well:
1: Matthew Henriques breaking down Abramov’s QMJHL game
2: Abramov’s 2018-19 Highlights, from SensProspects