Nick Abruzzese skates with Maple Leafs, will get a chance to play ‘in the near future’
Photo credit:George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
BOSTON — Newly signed Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Abruzzese will make his debut at some point. It just won’t happen on Tuesday when the team hosts the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
There was some initial buzz that it might happen when the 22-year-old skated in line rushes on the fourth line during the team’s morning skate. But Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe explained that the extra reps were just a way to get the forward settled into the group.
“We’ll see where he’s at and where our team and our lineup is at but he’s going to get in here in the near future,” Keefe said.
Wearing the number 26, Abruzzese put on skates for the first time since his Harvard Crimson were eliminated by Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Regionals on Thursday.
Exactly how much Abruzzese will play with the Leafs remains to be seen but the forward will be on the roster for the remainder of the season.
“I guess just try to help the team in whatever capacity I can,” Abruzzese said. “Obviously, they’re having a great year and there’s some pretty big aspirations. Whatever way I can help I’m just here to try and do that.”
Abruzzese has some familiarity with some of the Leafs. He met fellow alumni Alex Kerfoot last summer. Newly-acquired forward Colin Blackwell is also a Harvard alum. He also got to know Jason Spezza, who spoke to prospects at the teams’ development camp last summer.
“An incredible player with such a great career,” Abruzzese said of Spezza. “I’m just trying to take small things (in) and get acclimated as best as I can.”
Selected by the Maple Leafs in the fourth round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Abruzzese underwent hip surgery in 2020 and was on the mend when he learned the NCAA was shutting down its 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That time away from the ice gave him some perspective.
“Just getting back into it and having another hockey season was something I maybe took for granted,” Abruzzese said. “But I’m super grateful for.
He scored nine goals and had 33 points in 28 games this season. Abruzzese’s play earned him a spot on the 2022 USA Olympic team in Beijing.
“The first time putting on the jersey for our first game was pretty cool because I’ve never represented our country and being able to do that was really special.”
During his time at the Games, he got to know fellow Leafs prospect Matthew Knies. The two were teammates at the tournament.
“Physically he’s kind of a freak,” Abruzzese said of Knies. “We had some good chemistry at the Olympics. It was good getting to know him and he’s an incredible player.”
Knies could be the next collegiate prospect to join the Leafs. Should the team’s second-round pick from the 2022 NHL Draft choose not to return to the University of Minnesota next season, the 19-year-old could also be added to the team’s roster. That won’t happen until at least April 7, as Knies will be competing in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament with a national title up for grabs.
When his season with Harvard ended last week, Abruzzese was presented with a choice of signing with the Maple Leafs or returning to Harvard for another season.
“At the end of the day, I think I was ready to make this jump to professional hockey and I’m happy to have done that, Abruzzese said.
The Slate Hill, New York native signed a two-year, entry-level contract worth $1.7 million. The first season of his $850,000 NHL-level pay is prorated.