Russian center Mikhail Abramov got a double dose of culture shock when he came over to play major junior in 2018. Taken by Victoriaville in the import draft meant going to a French-Canadian market when he was still trying to learn English. But Abramov did his talking on the ice by finishing as one of the Tigres’ top scorers. Off the ice, his teammates made sure he tried a Quebecois staple. “The team bought me poutine,” said Abramov with a laugh. “If I eat a lot of that, I would get fat. It’s not good for me. But now I like Canadian food. It’s not bad, but Moscow is better.”
The distractions of a cosmopolitan metropolis such as Moscow aren’t as frequent in Victoriaville, but that’s fine with Abramov. He spends his time at the rink or in the gym, building on his slight 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame. And the quickness of the QMJHL game has been a welcome challenge. “You need to think more on the ice,” he said. “Make more passes and play with more skill guys. I like it a lot.”
A fourth-round pick in 2019, Abramov impressed at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, where AHL Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe was behind the bench for the Leafs’ rookies. “He’s really good with the puck on his stick,” Keefe said. “Lots of confidence, good vision and ability. We put him on the power play in a place that requires the ability to distribute and make plays in tight spaces, and he showed the ability to do that. There’s a lot to like.”
Now the mission is to keep those good vibes going, because there will always be bumps along the way, especially for a player not blessed with size. “We have a number of players like that, where they need to be confident to be good because of the types of players they are,” Keefe said.
For his part, Abramov wants to be more physical, especially in the corners. He knows he can pass the puck and that he has the hockey sense to succeed. If he can round out the other parts of his game, Toronto will have another high-skill forward to add to the mix in a couple years. – Ryan Kennedy