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The Cannon Top 25 Under 25 — #23 Vitali Abramov

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2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

In June, while many Blue Jackets fans were still wringing their hands over the selection of Pierre-Luc Dubois in lieu of the more fashionable pick of Jesse Puljujarvi, and others were scurrying to hockeydb.com to find out who the hell Andrew Peeke was, the Blue Jackets made a third round selection that might just have been the steal of the draft.

Entering the draft, Abramov was ranked as high as #9 overall, and as low as #51, depending who you chose to believe. However, the consensus appeared to be that he was a veritable lock to be picked somewhere late in the first round, with NHL Central Scouting pegging him at #29. After all, the kid put up 38 goals and 55 assists in just 63 games in his rookie year with Gatineau, which was good enough to earn Rookie of the Year honors in the Q. Combine that with the 42 goals and 57 assists DuBois posted for Cape Breton, and future Blue Jackets accounted for a big chunk of the QMJHL scoring last season.

So, how is it that a kid with high-end speed, explosive acceleration, and A-list puck skills and shot falls to #65? Two answers: Size. Russian. On the first score, Abramov is listed variously as anywhere from 5’6” to 5’9” in height, weighing in about 175 pounds. Again, “consensus” rears its ugly head and proclaims him too small to withstand the physical rigors of the NHL. First, you have to be able to catch someone to hit them, and that’s going to be a problem with Abramov, who displayed a transmission’s worth of gears at development camp, together with an impressive scoring touch. Secondly, the Abramov himself is not concerned about the physical aspects of the game. In an interview with NHL.com, he made the following observations:

I don’t feel small on the ice . . .and I’m not afraid to go to the net and get hit. I don’t think it’s a problem. . . I have a younger sister, and she does karate. She fights me every time.”

Insofar as the “Russian Factor” is concerned, you can’t predict the future, but you can examine the facts. Abramov bypassed some significant offers in Russia, moved to Canada, hired a private tutor to learn English, and has been quick to tell anyone who will listen about his goals:

My dream is the NHL, and I want to play there. I want to understand the Canadian style of life, the North American style of life before the NHL, to be more ready for the NHL.

Unless the 18 year old is craftily disguising his true motives, he sure sounds like he is in for the long haul. Certainly, all observers credit him with being a hard worker, ready to learn and hone his craft. No Filatov or Zherdev here, from all appearances. Could he turn tail and head back to the KHL sometime? Sure, but if he has the attitude and the skills, is that risk worth bypassing elite talent? As it was, it took some pretty steely nerves from Jarmo Kekäläinen to pass on Abramov in the 2nd round.

The selection of Abramov was just another sign that John Tortorella is dragging the club out of the era of grit and into the era of speed and skill. The undersized Cam Atkinson had his best year as a pro under Tortorella, due in large part that he was allowed to do what he does best — use his speed and skill to create turmoil and scoring chances. Had he converted more of the opportunities he created, he might have had 40 goals. That could be Abramov in a couple of years.

Outlook for 2016/17

Abramov is almost certainly headed for another year in Gatineau, giving him some time to fill out, hone the defensive part of the game, and continue to create havoc for opposing netminders. However, I fully expect to see him at camp in September, and he might even get to play some of his “free look” games before heading back to the Q. Much will depend upon how he manages the small ice with some big bodies.

We assembled this list by averaging out the scores from all of the writers, and I personally had Abramov significantly higher than #23. He has the skills and the attitude, and his progress chart might be steeper than many figure. After all, Abramov survived a meteor explosion over his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia. His reaction?

Normal school day and a meteor came down.

You gotta love this kid.