The Toronto Maple Leafs like to acquire players that attend Harvard. First, they drafted Nick Abruzzese in the fourth round in 2019 then later added Alexander Kerfoot from the Colorado Avalanche — both attended the prestigious school.
The 21-year-old dominated in the USHL last year where he had 80 points in 62 games. He followed it up by playing even better at school, where he won the Ivy League’s and ECAC’s Rookie of the Year awards in 2020.
Rank – Grade – NHL Readiness
10TH – B – 2-4 YEARS
Weight: 160 lbs
Drafted: 2019 4th round, 124th overall
What kind of player is he?
The NHL has progressed throughout the years bringing in players who are more skilled and not as big compared to 5-10 years ago. Abruzzese is on the smaller side but if you watch him play, his mind is what brings him to be an excellent player.
He makes everything look easy — whether it’s scoring, making a pass or being wide open for a scoring chance. Abruzzese knows where to be at the right time and if he gets to the NHL, that will be one of the many reasons why.
Looking back at his stats compared to former Harvard Crimson, Kerfoot, they are very similar in both size and their playmaking ability. Abruzzese finished off his sophomore year scoring 14 goals and adding 30 assists for 44 points in 31 games — a better points-per-game than Kerfoot in all his years at university.
Kyle Dubas also said this about Nick Abruzzese last month: “He’s 21 now, had a great season at Harvard. We feel with his intelligence & work ethic & skill level, he’ll continue to get stronger and because of his age probably has a faster chance of contending for a roster spot” https://t.co/7PbEBDbrll
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) September 17, 2020
But the most interesting trait I’ve seen from the 21-year-old is how he carries himself off the ice. A lot like Nick Robertson, Abruzzese is takes the game very seriously. He likes to go by a saying his dad used to tell him when he was younger which was; “champions are made when no one’s watching.”
In this interview with Todd Crocker, you can see that the 21-year-old is all business. Him and Robertson both take the game very seriously and understand what they have to do to get better and have success at a higher level.
By the numbers
When looking at Abruzzese’s stats, it’s okay to get excited — because I did too. But it’s going to be a long time before we see him in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. He just finished his sophomore year and he could stay at Harvard for 2-3 more years to finish his degree, making him 24 or 25 by the time he comes to Canada.
No rookie at Harvard has ever had more points (44) since Ted Donato was named head coach in 2004. It was a special year for Nick Abruzzese! #GoCrimson
📃: Abruzzese Named ECAC Hockey Rookie fo the Year https://t.co/fN8okN9ybv pic.twitter.com/mBRucotbyO
— HarvardMHockey (@HarvardMHockey) March 19, 2020
Depending on how much he dominates at the NCAA level, Abruzzese may come over the border sooner than we think though. We’ve only got one season of numbers from the 21-year-old, but if he improves even more, there could be more records broken in the future.
One of the most impressive tallies that can be found on Abruzzese is his points-per-game in the NCAA as a first-year player. He was tied for second alongside Vancouver Canucks prospect, Marc Michaelis, for most PPG with 1.4, according to Pick224. Even in total points, Abruzzese was tied for third in all of the NCAA with 44.
“He’s [Abruzzese] one of the best passers I’ve ever seen…” Said Jack Drury after a game against Dartmouth in February. The 21-year-old finished with the most assists on the team and finished 7th in all of the NCAA. His vision is one of his most dominant traits and it’s one that I’d term as elite.
Abruzzese is also a player who can play in any situation on the ice, too. On the power play, he can use his vision to find you anywhere in the offensive zone, penalty kill because of his speed and knowledge of where to be on the ice and also at even strength, where he dominates most.
What’s next for Abruzzese?
There’s not much that can be said about “what’s next” for the 21-year-old right now. His season has been on pause due to COVID-19 and he’s also recovering from surgery to fix a torn labrum in his left hip. The operation will likely put him out of Harvard’s lineup until March but if COVID-19 numbers are still high, it could be even later than that.
When he does return to Harvard’s lineup, be ready for him to take his game to another level. With his hockey sense and all of the other traits Abruzzese possesses, he has the chance to be one of the best players in the NCAA in the next few years. Although his size is a downfall, we’ve witnessed players dominate while still being short — they just need to find their style (which the 21-year-old already has.)
But like I said before, Abruzzese is the one who holds all the cards in where he goes next. Depending on whether he wants to get his degree in phycology or not will judge where his career spans to next. He’s a great player and the Maple Leafs made a great choice of picking him.
“Champions are made when no one’s watching.” Let’s see if he can follow through and become that champion everyone hopes for him to be.