The Maple Leafs chose forward Mikhail Abramov in the fourth round of last June’s entry draft after he put up 16 goals and 38 assists in 62 games during his first season with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. He’s taken his play to another level this season, leading the charge with 35 goals and 41 assists through 63 games for a lowly Victoriaville team. His stellar season was rewarded on Tuesday as the Maple Leafs announced they had signed the young Russian to a three-year entry level contract.
Following his debut season in North America, Abramov was projected as a mid-round pick in his first year of NHL draft eligibility. Ranked as the 96th best prospect by the Athletic’s Corey Pronman, Toronto was all too happy to take a swing on Abramov with the 115th pick in the draft. As a smaller, skilled forward with plenty of offensive upside he seemed to fit the mould for the Maple Leafs draft strategy under Kyle Dubas.
“He’s a great playmaker with high-end vision. Abramov is always looking to make a play. He makes a lot of passes through seams and does so at a quick pace. If anything, he tries a little too much to make the nice play as he passes up shots and stays on the perimeter too much. Abramov has a good shot and getting to shooting opportunities would increase his value.”– Corey Pronman, The Athletic (Pronman’s 2019 NHL Draft Board: Top 107 Prospects)
After a short stint in the Leafs NHL training camp last fall, Abramov was sent back to Victoriaville to play a leading role on his team as he continued to develop his game. Far and away the best player for the Tigres, the Leafs couldn’t have asked for a whole lot more out of their fourth round pick in his post-draft year. His 76 points are 35 more than his next highest scoring teammate, unless you count Brooklyn Kalmikov who recorded 23 of his 53 points with Cape Breton before he was acquired earlier this season.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Abramov’s breakout season is the fact that he’s clearly developed more of a shooter’s mentality than scouts believed he had in him prior to being drafted. His shot is a legitimate weapon and his 35 goals so far this season – more than double the 16 he had as a rookie – are proof that he has taken a significant leap forward as a goal scorer.
“This season, on another weak Victoriaville team, Abramov has continued to establish himself as a dominant individual threat, rather than a dangerous combination threat. By that, I mean that he has learned to rely less on his linemates and more on himself, his puck skill, his ability to hang onto the puck and avoid contact even against bigger players, and yes, that shot.”– Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (Wheeler’s 2020 NHL Prospect Pool Rankings: No. 21 Toronto Maple Leafs)
I saw him live earlier this season and he was the lone bright spot on a poor Tigres team. He was tenacious on the puck and showed impressive vision, even if his teammates were mostly unable to take advantage of his passing ability. He did finish the night with a pair of goals, one after he forced a turnover in the corner and another off a blistering one timer from the top of the faceoff circle that looked a lot like this one:
Abramov is likely destined for another season in the QMJHL where he’ll again be looked to as an offensive leader on his team. It’s important to temper expectations with any prospect, especially one drafted outside the first three rounds, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Abramov’s development to this point. The fact that he has made clear and significant improvements in the areas that were deemed to be his weaknesses is extremely encouraging and provides reason for optimism that he’ll be able to continue to grow into an impactful pro.
After building a core around high draft picks like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander, the Leafs are going to need to find contributors deeper in the draft in the coming years. Mikhail Abramov has taken big steps this season towards eventually being one of those contributors for the Maple Leafs.
Statistics from hockeydb.com