With all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Blue Jackets franchise regarding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky's contract status, it's easy to forget that the next wave of talent is on the horizon.
For many fans, it's hard to reconcile that a 20-year-old who's yet to play a game in the NHL is likely a more effective player than many tenured NHL veterans, but every year we see younger players make an impact.
The Blue Jackets have graduated many of their top prospects in recent years to the NHL level, and to great success. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, and Markus Nutivaara are all home-grown prospects that have made solid (if not more) contributions to the team in the past several years.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic recently ranked his top 50 drafted prospects, and the Blue Jackets prized winger was the sole player to make his list, checking in at No. 31. From the article:
"I have a love affair with Vitalii Abramov. I still can’t believe he wasn’t a first-rounder. He can play the entire game at full speed with the puck on a string. There’s nothing that any team in the QMJHL could do to stop him from the moment he stepped into the league — and posted seven points in his first two games in his draft year — until the moment he stepped out of it riding a 15-game point streak that saw him register 41 points. It’s amazing to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes an NHL all-star someday."
Abramov is a high-end scorer with a ridiculous amount of talent. Unfortunately, the NHL-CHL agreement wouldn't allow the Russian dynamo to play in the AHL, only the NHL, as a 19-year old, so Abramov was forced to put up his second consecutive 100-plus point season in the QMJHL (note: Abramov was able to play in the AHL after his QMJHL season ended in 2016-17).
That won't be an issue in the upcoming season. Abramov will be playing professional hockey in Ohio, it's just a matter of what city. He'll have a chance to make the Blue Jackets, though he'd be better served playing in the AHL as opposed to playing low minutes in the NHL.
Abramov has a bit of Sonny Milano in him. Their skill-sets make them effective top-six players, but his lack of (perceived) defensive acumen could give the coaching staff/management a pause when constructing the roster. Their thinking goes like this: if the player isn't going to be in the top-six, can he shut down the other team's top line? Can he kill penalties?
While Abramov played in all situations in the QMJHL, he'll be tasked with producing offense for a team that needs more scoring punch.
But the thing is, even if Abramov fails to make the roster in Columbus, the organization should have no problem letting him ripen in the minors. The Cleveland Monsters were a dismal 25-41-10 in 2017-18, the worst point total in the team's history. This year's team will be better equipped, and the AHL is an excellent developmental league for a young player.
In the AHL, Abramov would see a ton of minutes, play in a scoring role, and could adjust to the professional game. That would be preferable to being a healthy scratch or playing limited minutes in the NHL.
As great as he's proven in the QMJHL, Abramov's profile isn't flawless. While the NHL is trending smaller, he's still a kid with a slight build. And while his fearlessness driving to the net in the QMJHL is admirable (and certainly no knock), we can't say if he'll be able to play with that same reckless abandon against grown men. He's a streaky scorer, but that's not unusual at any level. Lastly, he really struggled in the U-20 World Junior Championships a year ago, scoring one goal (empty net) and failing to register an assist over five games a year ago.
It's a small sample size, but his four points in four games in the AHL a season ago should mean that Abramov will be a productive – if not dynamic – point-producer at the AHL level. And if you're a Blue Jackets fan, that's not a bad worst-case scenario.