TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #13 Nick Abruzzese

Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Bennett Jull
8 months ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honour the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
Coming in at #13 in our rankings is Nick Abruzzese. I personally had him one spot ahead of #14 Alex Steeves and had both of them right in this vicinity. Abruzzese is coming off his first full year of professional hockey, and having sorted out his contract, he will be focused on taking another step forward this year. Abruzzese signed a two-year, two-way contract extension just over two weeks ago.
Abruzzese grew up in Slate Hill, New York, playing minor hockey in multiple organizations. During high school, he got a taste of junior hockey with the New Jersey Titans of the NAHL and committed to the University of Vermont. Upon finishing high school, he played two seasons for the Chicago Steel alongside current Marlies teammate Matteo Pietroniro in the USHL under Greg Moore. In his first season under Moore, Abruzzese had 36 points in 56 games and went undrafted.
Heading into his second season in the USHL, something changed. Greg Moore got the absolute best out of Abruzzese, and his game leaped to another level. He put up an astounding 80 points in 62 games, which led the entire league. He changed his commitment from Vermont to Harvard and was drafted 124th overall in the 2019 NHL draft by Toronto.
Abruzzese carried his scintillating form into his freshman year at Harvard. He led a Crimson Tide team that included Marlies teammate Marshall Rifai and occasional call-up Jack Badini in scoring. Abruzzese had 14 goals and 30 assists in 31 games which led the ECAC. He won Rookie of the Year, capping up a phenomenal first collegiate season and putting him firmly on the Maple Leafs’ radar.
Going into his sophomore season, Abruzzese sought to improve his all-around game in an effort to prepare for a possible contract at the end of his season. He tacked on more weight and paid more attention to the smaller details. He still produced 33 points in 28 games, but his all-around game improved. Apparently, Toronto thought the same, and Abruzzese was signed to a two-year entry-level contract once Harvard’s season came to a halt.
Abruzzese signed his contract on March 26th which enabled him to suit up and make his NHL debut that season. He played in nine games, notching one goal, which happened to be the game-winner in a contest against the Bruins. He didn’t feature in any playoff games for the Leafs.
That brings us to this past season, his first full season as a professional. This year Abruzzese played in 69 games, scoring 16 goals and 48 points. His 48 points were good enough for third on the team and his overall play improved as the season went on. I felt he became a bigger factor in games as the season progressed, and in the Marlies’ seven playoff games, he had seven points. He earned a late call-up towards the end of the regular season with the Leafs, playing in two games and picking up two assists.
Abruzzese sees the ice very well and has a great hockey sense. His ability in the offensive zone cemented him as a good playmaker in the AHL, and his overall game was solid. Looking at this coming season, he needs to take a step forward. Now that he is used to the AHL, the organization will be expecting Abruzzese to become more dominant with the Marlies. In addition to an uptick in points, his overall game needs to improve if he wants a shot at playing for a period with the Leafs.
His hands and hockey sense are NHL calibre. His speed and overall quickness could stand to improve a touch, and his tenacity along the boards or deep in the corners may not currently be up to par if he wants to earn a bottom-six role. It will be interesting to see how he places amongst the group of Marlies vying for NHL time (McMann, Robertson, Holmberg, Steeves). I’m hoping that Abruzzese can become a point-per-game player next year while adding a little more physicality and quickness to his toolbox.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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