When making the transition from being a college free agent to professional hockey, it's hard to detemine just how successful the transition will be. There are so many factors at play that it can be difficult to really assess how successful they'll be. For some, the transition to playing a schedule over twice the length can make it a grueling experience. For others, the increase in size and strength can be tough to overcome (particularly for smaller players). Others still leave school at a much later point in their development; so not only do they have to adjust to the rigors of pro hockey but they do so with less time to make significant improvements.
For Spencer Abbott, all three of these issues could potentially derail his budding pro career. But he posesses a great amount of skill and took massive strides in his game in each of his four years at the University of Maine. Abbott's potential has seen him break into the Top 25 in his debut in the rankings, claiming spot #23.
Hockey East has a reputation for being one of the more challenging conferences within the NCAA, so the consistent progression in his scoring totals, and registering 62 points in 39 games in his senior year are promising totals for his future ability to generate offence (For reference, Matt Frattin had 60 points in 44 games in his senior year the year prior for North Dakota). Unfortunately, a concussion suffered at the end of the college season limited Abbott's opportunity to get a preview of AHL competition; he played just 3 regular season games and 5 playoff games. Given the depth of the Marlies to end the season and the success in advancing all the way to the Calder Cup finals, that Abbott got any playing time is impressive.
Because of Abbott's small (by NHL standards) stature, he'll likely need to succeed in the pros by translating his scoring prowess from college to the pros. The Marlies are now deep at centre, so as long as Abbott can solidify a place in the top 9 (possible due to the likely promotions of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin, and the departure of Marcel Mueller and Philippe Dupuis), he should get an opportunity to play with quality linemates to help him succeed.
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Abbott found his way onto everybody's top 30 list, cracking the Top 25 on five lists and even sneaking into the Top 20 for PPP and SkinnyFish. According to SkinnyFish, it's because of the skill he displayed in college, and the hope that it can carry over to the AHL.
Small, skilled forwards are making a resurgence in the NHL, and Spencer Abbott could very well be the Maple Leafs addition to that. Scoring at a 1.59 ppg clip in the hardest league in NCAA hockey while standing only 5'9" is no small task (pardon the pun). I think he'll be transitioned to wing at the AHL/NHL level, but there is no denying his late blooming hockey talent. But that's the problem; he's already 24 and competing with younger players with better pedigrees for roster spots and playing time. If he were 20, I'd have put him in my top 10. Unfortunately, his keep/drop date is much sooner than those of the other Leaf prospects and I wonder if he'll get a fair shot at success before he gets dropped.
Abbott's skill is well documented. The problem I have with putting him so right away is twofold; first, as with Greg Scott, Abbott's a couple of years older than the other prospects, which for the purposes of a list like this based on age is a disadvantage. Second, it's still unclear whether Abbott can grab an available spot on the Marlies, for which there is going to be significant competition. The uncertainty of whether he gets the opportunity Frattin got after his senior year makes me hesitant to give him a high ranking.