This is the fifth of my six 2019 NHL Draft Recap articles, in which I do a deep dive into every Maple Leafs selection from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
With the 115th overall selection in the 2019 draft, the Maple Leafs took a swing on skilled Russian playmaker, Mikhail Abramov, who spent his draft season in the QMJHL with the Victoriaville Tigres. Abramov was expected to be taken higher than this by many people who followed the draft all season long (myself included) and seems like a good value selection in the fourth round.
Let’s take a look at what Abramov brings to the table
If you’re on Twitter, like me, you probably see some absurd takes from time to time. One of the worst takes I saw post-draft was that the Leafs had a bad draft because they selected a bunch of small players, none of which were born in Canada.
Mikhail Abramov is an undersized Russian player, but despite what some people may tell you, that is not always a bad thing.
I can confirm, Mikhail Abramov is not a big player. Quite the opposite, actually. Most 17/18-year-old players are physically immature, but Abramov is even more physically immature than most players in his age group.
While we are in an era where it is easy for smaller players to succeed in the NHL, that doesn’t mean that it is an advantage to be undersized, and that doesn’t mean that it’s not still an obstacle that Abramov will need to overcome. One-on-one battles are still undoubtedly part of the game, and Abramov struggles to win those because he just isn’t very strong. He doesn’t play with any real physical edge, and he’d prefer to try to strip the puck off of his opponent rather than knock them down with an open-ice hit. Abramov will need to become much stronger if he is to become a useful NHL player.
Looking at a player’s weight (let alone nationality) and getting upset about it is not the way to go, like I said. In fact, if I had to pick one weakness that I prefer my prospects have more than any other, it would probably be strength.
It’s much harder to teach a big, strong player to think the game at a high level or try to increase their overall skill level than it is to help a skilled, smart, undersized player gain 25 pounds within the next four/five years or so. Judging by the recent mid-to-late round selections of players like Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Mac Hollowell, Mikhail Abramov, Nick Abruzzese and Mike Koster, it seems that the Leafs agree with me here.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk more about Abramov’s game.
Abramov is a smart, skilled playmaker who can play both in the middle or on the wing. With the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, Abramov is primarily looking to set up a teammate for a scoring chance. He is very patient with the puck on his stick, and will hold onto the puck and skate around the offensive zone if he has to in order to create a passing lane. He has very good vision, and he has the ability to complete the passes that he sees. He’s also a crafty player that can deke around opposing defencemen if necessary.
Let’s check the tape, starting with this backhand sauce to set up a scoring chance (Abramov is #9 on team Russia in all clips):
Abramov has the ability to rack up assists, but I am sceptical of his ability to score goals.
He can deke out the goaltender using his hands-on breakaways, but he doesn’t *think* like a goal scorer. What that means is, Abramov isn’t circling around the offensive zone without the puck, trying to get free in front of the net for a chance. He’ll often stand in front of the net rather stationary, which makes him easy to cover. He also just isn’t a shoot-first type of player, and I’d categorize his shot as “average”, so as a result, he doesn’t score a ton of goals.
Abramov doesn’t get a ton of power behind it, but this is another aspect of the game that will improve as he continues to get stronger. Here’s an example of his pass-first mindset:
Something that I really like about Abramov is that he has a very high hockey IQ. He makes great decisions with the puck on his stick, and he reads the play very well. When the Leafs drafted Abramov, I tweeted that he has an underrated two-way game, and after going back and watching him closer than before, I still stand by this. While Abramov isn’t strong in board battles, he makes good reads defensively, and he anticipates the play quite well.
Here he is making a nice read by Abramov, breaking up a rush.
He’s also a good back checker. Abramov tends to lift the stick of his opponents rather than try to take the body and knock him over, which is what he should be doing as a smaller player.
Abramov is also a good transition player. He does not tend to dump the puck into the opposing zone or out of his own zone. He prefers to pass off to his teammates in transition, and is a solid carrier himself when he needs to be. Abramov will also come down low in his own zone to support the breakout, giving his defencemen an easy outlet.
As a skater, I’d say Abramov is good but not great. He has decent speed, pretty good edgework, and ok acceleration. I don’t really have any issues with the way he skates, indicating that he may just have to improve his leg strength to progress from “good” to “great”.
So, what do the Leafs have here in Abramov? I think they’ve got an intelligent player who makes great reads and has anticipates play well.
He’s also got a lot of skill, which he uses primarily for playmaking and not as often for goal scoring. He’d greatly benefit from adding more muscle to his slight frame, which is something that takes time. The good thing is, Abramov has got time.
Overall, this seems to be another smart pick by the Leafs’ scouting staff. They’re taking a chance on a player with raw skill and hockey sense, hoping that he can add some muscle. That is a much smarter bet than taking a chance on a big player that lacks tools and IQ.
I’d still categorize Abramov as a “long-shot”, but I would say the same thing about every other player selected in the fourth round like Abramov was, though this is the type of long shot that teams should be taking in 2019. This pick fits the mould of what the Leafs have done in the Kyle Dubas era, and I’d expect them to continue to make picks like this one as long as he’s in charge.