Mikhail Abramov is a physically small, offensively minded forward prospect who has put up some intriguing — but not eye-popping — point totals in his junior career, but who has some question marks around the rest of his game that could affect his ability to make it in the NHL.
Stop us if we’re starting to sound like a broken record with that sort of introduction.
Of that type of prospect that we’ve written about so far in these rankings, Abramov is one of the furthest along in his development and seems like he has the best chance of being a “real boy” as far as prospects are concerned. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2019, and has finished his junior career last season as a QMJHL champion. This year, he’ll be playing in the AHL with the Marlies, and we should get a much better idea of his future projection in how he adapts to a much more difficult level of hockey.
Two years ago, Abramov exploded with a huge leap forward offensively. He more than doubled his goals from his draft year, and finished with 22 more points in as many games. The most impressive part of his offensive production is that he basically had to do it all solo. For most of the year, he actually had more goals than his next closest teammate had in total points. He wound up finishing 15th in total QMJHL points and tied for 10th in goals. The next best teammate on Victoriaville was a defenseman, who had 19 goals and 41 points compared to Abramov’s 35 and 76 totals respectively.
That got a lot of people’s attention, not just the big leap in production but also changing where it came from. In his draft year, he was remarked as mostly a play making center who lacks a good shot or goal scoring instinct. The next season he shot the puck a lot more, and scored a lot more, thanks to a greatly improved shot. Needing to be his whole team’s offense led him to adjusting his offensive style, and it worked for him.
Mikhail Abramov (TOR) with a beautiful assist. Afanasyev (NSH) with the goal.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 31, 2020
1-0 Russia. pic.twitter.com/ckguUZ1aAI
This past season, which had several interruptions due to COVID, Abramov had a less good season. He had 12 goals and 18 assists in 25 games. It was a slight dip in his pace from the previous season, despite being surrounded by better offensive players. In the playoffs, he helped lead Victoriaville to a surprise championship run with 24 points in 19 games. Only 5 were goals, but they were often game tying or game winning goals, including an overtime winner.
He also played for Team Russia at the World Junior Championship, where he was benched for and/or suspended for a few of their games, but finished with 2 points in 4 games as a middle six center.
As Katya likes to say, the development path for a prospect is rarely a smooth ascent where each year they look better until they leap into the NHL from their father’s forehead, fully armed and armored and ready to battle like a seasoned vet. Abramov not having as many points is not positive evidence towards his NHL future, but it isn’t necessarily a negative one either. Especially with how weird last season was. But at the very least, we didn’t necessarily see anything new from him either, and so the question marks remain as he’s a year older.
How We Voted
Abramov finishes 11th in our rankings. Three people ranked him 7th as his best rankings (myself, Katya and Omar) while two ranked him 12th as his worst rankings (Scouch, AJ). That may seem odd, but if you look at the average rankings of Abramov (9.56) and the player right behind him in the rankings, Kokkonen (14.56) you can see that he represents a pretty big jump between tiers of prospects with how we voted.
As such, you can consider Abramov to be more or less voted to be the ‘worst’ prospect in a tier of guys we consider to be ‘the real boys’. It includes our higher draft picks in the past couple of years, plus our younger NHL depth guys who have made it but aren’t top tier guys.
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In some ways, it’s easy to see why. Abramov has more of a track record, and has already taken a big leap in his development. He was never the very best player in the QMJHL, or on Team Russia in any international tournaments, but he could hang with the big names in the next tier down.
Offensively, he’s still a brilliant playmaker when he has the puck on his stick, and he has shown a significantly improved shot. For Team Russia, he was one of their best transition players to get the puck through the neutral zone on a team that struggled in that area at times. There’s no denying that he has skill to spare, and that will be what carries him to the NHL if he can make it and stick there.
But the question marks are around the rest of his game. He’s 6’0” so not short, but still pretty thin and light. He has made a lot of strides there, and sounds driven to improve his strength — in a profile after the draft, Scott Wheeler shared this funny little story:
Last season as a 17-year-old, Abramov got adjusted in the QMJHL, where the Tigres selected him out of CSKA Moscow’s under-18 program with their second pick of the 2018 CHL import draft, and Robitaille and his staff had felt that their uniquely talented, 154-pound new centre was getting pushed around a little too much.
Through some combination of Abramov’s broken English and the coaching staff’s even more broken Russian (they’d been trying to learn Russian so that Abramov knew they cared about his transition), they’d tried to communicate that to him.
And apparently, though they don’t know how, the message had been received. Later that night, Robitaille and his staff got word from Abramov’s billet that he’d been quietly doing pushups in his room.
“His billet was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘I want to get bigger and stronger, I need to keep the puck more.’ That tells you about his passion and his commitment,” Robitaille said.
Abramov is now listed as 185 lbs on his EP page. And while you should never put too much stock into the exact official height and weight listings of a player, it’s clear that he has bulked up a good amount in the last three years. Adding more strength will only help him as he continued to develop in pro hockey.
Mikhail Abramov (#LeafsForever) with a beautiful assist on Victoriaville’s overtime winner today.— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) May 10, 2021
Second round series is tied 1-1. pic.twitter.com/0BB8Sd36qc
The other area where he still needs to improve his skating. He’s not a terrible one, but he’s not a great one either. He’s mobile and maneuverable, which helps him carry the puck through the neutral zone, but his top speed could be improved. His defensive game has also not been terrible for his level to date, but it’s also not something that shows some higher end skills (like takeaways) you see from someone like Amirov.
So if Abramov makes the NHL, it will likely be as an offensively minded, playmaking winger who can help a powerplay. His lack of higher end strength, speed and two-way ability will likely mean he won’t stick as a center. If he was lacking in only one or two of those areas, that would be one thing. Lacking in all of them is more concerning, though his skill could play up just fine on the wing. If there is hope, it’s that working more directly with the Leafs’ team of skill and development coaches will help him improve a bit so he isn’t as much of a liability in all those areas.
Here’s what some of the other voters had to say:
Hardev: I think Abramov has a lot of talent, he works hard, and he has produced at a first line rate in the QMJHL the last few years. I think that’s all you can ask from him at the moment. I don’t have critiques for him, just homework. His season in the AHL will be super important. He’ll need to show he can make things happen on the third line or higher, not just on the power play. I think his play is more suited for centre and I’d like to see him get together with McKenna and a vet, maybe Gaudet. I think they would have lots of fun. I’ve said before, there are lots of open jobs on the Marlies and miles of opportunity to take on a bigger job. That goes for the defense as well as the offense.
Katya: Abramov can’t win. He was the hot prospect when he scored a lot early two seasons ago, but when he didn’t match that immediately in last year’s weird season, that was it, the buzz was gone. With no buzz, no hype, he’s yesterday’s dream. Last winter in the T25, I think I strategically voted him too high to offset what I thought was a strange reluctance to take him seriously because of which junior league he played in. I just left him that high this time, which is more about my problems ranking in the middle of the list, where I have to figure out Liljegren and young prospects and NHL players, and Abramov, barely younger than Robertson. I have him bunched up with the younger Hirvonen, Niemelä and Knies. All three are good, but not great prospects. The first two and Abramov have played good, but not star roles at the WJC, Knies is likely about to do that too.
Hardev is right, this AHL year will be very revealing of how he’ll play, not just in pro hockey, but with a higher quality of teammates. I think he has something like a real game, and he might just be Adam Brooks all over again, but that’s about all we should be expecting out of this section of the list.
I said it at the start, Hardev and Katya both said it in the comments, and I’m sure most of you all are thinking the same thing: this is a big year for Abramov. We bumped him out of the tier of real long shots and into the tier of guys we think have more legit shots at the NHL based on his play in the QMJHL and World Juniors. He has taken pretty significant strides in his post-draft career, improving his shot, putting on a lot more muscle, and becoming one of the second-tier offensive forces in one of the better junior leagues in the world.
But the pro game is another animal, and he’s coming off a chaotic year where he didn’t seem to make significant improvements like he did in his D+1 season. Playing with the Marlies, we’ll all get a much better look at how well he can play against much tougher competition but also with better teammates. If we’re going to continue considering him as more of a legit prospect than you’d expect out of a fourth round pick, then we can set some expectations for what we see in his rookie AHL season.
He’s not Pierre Engvall, where his size and defensive play are what let him get NHL playing time. He’s more in the Andreas Johnsson or Adam Brooks mold as smaller more offensively valued players. In Andreas Johnsson’s AHL rookie season, he was 22 years old and had 47 points in games. In Adam Brooks’ AHL rookie season, he was a 21 year old center and had 19 points in 57 games.
Abramov will join the Marlies as a 20 year old rookie center. He’ll be younger, and on a Marlies team not nearly as good as they were when Johnsson and Brooks had their rookie seasons. Abramov likely won’t start with any kind of a top role, but we should expect him to settle into a middle six role and be somewhere between Johnsson and Brooks’ rookie totals for points. We should also see him look like he belongs in the AHL, even if he has some growing pains. We will want to see him not get physically dominated, be able to showcase his skill and use it to make plays at that level.
For what it’s worth, I really like him and I’ve made no secret about it. I do think his offense can carry him, and I think he is highly driven to improve in all of the areas he needs to, and while that’s no guarantee it is something you cannot always say about a similar prospect in his same circumstance.
Do you think Abramov should be included in the tier of prospects with a legitimate chance of being an NHLer?
This poll is closed
Yes, I buy into his offensive skills
Ask me after his first AHL season is over