One of my favourite and not-as-well-known prospects in the Leafs’ system is Nick Abruzzese. We at The Leafs Nation love our Nicks, between staff writer Nick Barden, my co-contributor Nick Richard (one of our resident prospect wizards), and some guy named Nick Robertson who might be pretty good, and now Abruzzese, who is a legitimately interesting prospect coming through the ranks.
Now in his draft+4 season, and his junior year with Harvard, Abruzzese is climbing up my list of favourite prospects (and favourite Nicks, watch out Nick Richard!). Here’s his basic information, from Elite Prospects:
Height: 5’9″ / 175 cm
Weight: 161 lbs / 73 kg
Drafted: By Toronto, 124th overall, 2019 NHL Entry Draft
2020-21 Team: Harvard University Crimson (did not play)
2020 Prospect Ranking: #10
Abruzzese is not well known at this point, and was even less well known when the Leafs drafted as a double-overager in 2019. His main exposure to scouting was his time with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. The Steel have developed a unique training program through Darryl Belfry, who is a specialized hockey trainer who works with some of the league’s biggest stars, including our own Auston Matthews.
Despite being a bit under the radar, he’s built up a good reputation as a scorer at the college level. In his most recent season, he put up a really solid 0.94 points per game in his draft+3 season, good for 5th in NCAA among players in their draft+3 season or younger. Below are the top 15 of that same group, from Pick224:
|LEAGUE||NAME||DY+/-||POS||SEASON||GP||EV P1/GP||PP P1/GP||P1/GP||eTOI/GP||P1/e60||DRAFT YEAR||NHL DRAFT||DRAFT TEAM||NHL TEAM|
|NCAA||Jack Drury||DY+2||F||2020||28||0.6429||0.5||1.1429||22.69||3.0219||2018||CAR (2018) – #42||CAR||CAR|
|NCAA||Tyler Madden||DY+2||F||2020||27||0.7037||0.4074||1.1111||23.91||2.7879||2018||VAN (2018) – #68||VAN||LAK|
|NCAA||Alex Newhook||DY+1||F||2020||34||0.6765||0.2059||1||17.96||3.3413||2019||COL (2019) – #16||COL||COL|
|NCAA||Tyce Thompson||DY+3||F||2020||34||0.5588||0.3824||0.9706||20.25||2.8755||2017||NJD (2019) – #96||NJD||NJD|
|NCAA||Nicholas Abruzzese||DY+3||F||2020||31||0.5806||0.3548||0.9355||20.41||2.7494||2017||TOR (2019) – #124||TOR||TOR|
|NCAA||Morgan Barron||DY+3||F||2020||29||0.5862||0.3103||0.8966||19.75||2.7237||2017||NYR (2017) – #174||NYR||NYR|
|NCAA||Logan Hutsko||DY+3||F||2020||30||0.6333||0.2333||0.8667||18.88||2.7537||2017||FLA (2018) – #89||FLA||FLA|
|NCAA||Jack Rathbone||DY+3||D||2020||28||0.3571||0.5||0.8571||25.37||2.0273||2017||VAN (2017) – #95||VAN||VAN|
|NCAA||Cole Caufield||DY+1||F||2020||36||0.5||0.3333||0.8333||19.86||2.5171||2019||MTL (2019) – #15||MTL||MTL|
|NCAA||Trevor Zegras||DY+1||F||2020||33||0.4545||0.3636||0.8182||20.27||2.422||2019||ANA (2019) – #9||ANA||ANA|
|NCAA||Jakov Novak||DY+3||F||2020||35||0.4||0.2857||0.7714||18.78||2.465||2017||OTT (2018) – #188||OTT||OTT|
|NCAA||Noah Cates||DY+3||F||2020||34||0.4412||0.3235||0.7647||18.62||2.4643||2017||PHI (2017) – #137||PHI||PHI|
|NCAA||Mathias Emilio Pettersen||DY+2||F||2020||36||0.3611||0.3889||0.75||17.1||2.631||2018||CGY (2018) – #167||CGY||CGY|
|NCAA||Curtis Hall||DY+2||F||2020||28||0.6071||0.1429||0.75||17.65||2.5495||2018||BOS (2018) – #119||BOS||BOS|
|NCAA||David Farrance||DY+3||D||2020||34||0.3529||0.3824||0.7353||24.35||1.8115||2017||NSH (2017) – #92||NSH||NSH|
As you can see, he topped even the likes of Cole Caufield and Trevor Zegras, though of course they are 2 years younger.
Abruzzese is a scoring-type forward, which tends to translate well to the NHL. He was Harvard’s top line center in 2019-20, and led the team with 44 points. Unfortunately, Harvard did not play the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, obviously. Missing last season is certainly a hurdle in his developmental path, but given how well he performed in the 2019-20 season, he deserves the staying power in our prospect rankings. It’s also likely that all prospects felt some kind of disruption this past year, like all of us. Maybe the year of games and focusing on off-ice training will be good for him.
He also suffered some hip problems near the end of the 2019-20 season, and ended up having surgery that offseason.
“It’s something that was bothering me so it was a good time to get it done. I won’t be missing any games for school now so if there was ever a time to get it done, this was it. I’m just trying to focus on the recovery and trying to get back to being as healthy and as productive as I can be. Hopefully, I can start skating in the near future and be able to start ramping things up soon.”
Below is a great thread of highlight clips from that 2019-20 season by friend-of-the-blog Kevin Papetti. Click the link to see all of the videos in a thread!
Spent the last hour watching Harvard highlights, so now you have to as well.
Here's some quick clips of Leafs prospect Nick Abruzzese: pic.twitter.com/MginUJYTGN
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 16, 2020
You can see from the above highlights that he’s a very shifty player, and quick with the puck. He’s able to use those skills to generate chances on the rush regularly. He’s also got the kind of shot that (at the NCAA level at least) you’re trying to set up on the powerplay.
What to expect
Abruzzese is one of those prospects that is somewhat boom-or-bust, to use an overused phrase. He’s got the kinds of offensive skills that, if they translate to the NHL, will see him easily attain a top-9 forward position. However, if he can’t get those skills to translate, there’s little else he could do for an NHL team. That’s not to say he’s bad defensively, it’s just that that isn’t his best skill set. It’s really tough to say whether that’s going to happen or not. If I could tell you, I’d be getting paid a lot more. What I do know is that scoring points in the development leagues does generally translate to being useful in the NHL, whether that’s in a scoring role, or transitioning to a two-way or shutdown role. Offensive skills come from talents that can translate to defensive skills, with sufficient coaching and training.
He will be back in college this year for his junior year, though it will only be his second NCAA hockey season. Many prospects transition to the pro leagues after their junior year, but some finish their degrees. It’s hard to say in which camp Abruzzese will be, but my assumption is that he will join the Marlies for the 2022-23 season.
In this year, as the whole Ivy League restarts, it will be important for Abruzzese to focus on getting back into the groove of playing hockey, testing out his hip surgery, and building up the strength needed to transition to pro hockey. Seeing Cole Caufield and Trevor Zegras succeed at the NHL level is a good sign for Abruzzese, because he fits a similar mold, though he is a little older. It’s not fair to expect that kind of success. But, he does have the tools to do something that approaches that, in time.