The beginning of 2020 came with a lot of highs for Nicholas Abruzzese. He had a dominant freshman season at Harvard putting up 44 points in 31 games. He picked up the ECAC rookie of the year honours in the process. This following a 2019 when the overager was selected in the 4th round of the entry draft by the Leafs.
Now, like for the rest of us, the realities of 2020 have taken hold for Abruzzese and he’s in a situation where Harvard will not have their hockey team competing this fall and rather than a return to campus, Abruzzese will likely be taking online courses, without a venue to grow his game. This is an unfortunate situation for a player who has taken tremendous leaps over the past two seasons, and now might have to leap to his third league in three years.
From Nick Barden:
But there’s obviously more to Abruzzese than just points and rookie feats.
Particularly his on-ice awareness in impeccable as he can receive the puck and get it back off his stick to a wide-open player just as quick.
Not a playmaker like Mitch Marner, but his ability to do so has some resemblance to Bracco. Still a different player, Abruzzese is also a centre, which the Toronto Maple Leafs may need in the near future.
It’s possible he could reach top-six potential on an NHL team, but he could also become a lethal third-line playmaking centre.
Either way, Abruzzese is a top prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs system, again though, still behind Robertson.
That’s where the Marlies (and/or Growlers) option comes in. The Leafs can bring Abruzzese into the fold early and have him join their AHL or ECHL affiliate this season, assuming that those leagues will be functioning in some capacity. With his age, the USHL and CHL options are no longer on the table for him, and if the AHL isn’t up and running, the only other option is overseas, although that would still require the Leafs sign him and then loan him to a club.
Abruzzese is the most high profile of the Leafs prospects affected by this, but another promising prospect, Mike Koster is set to join the University of Minnesota. Koster has other options like staying with the Tri-City Storm or exploring a CHL option as well, and wouldn’t necessarily require the Leafs to sign him at this point, however.
James Greenway and Ryan O’Connell are in a similar boat to Abruzzese in that if they aren’t able to play in the fall they would need to find jobs in either the ECHL/AHL (much more likely ECHL in both cases) and would require a contract from the Leafs to avoid them becoming free agents. I don’t think the Leafs are too worried about bringing them into the fold, but may give them pro contracts with the Growlers or Marlies to further explore what they could be.
This brings us back to the main point and that is the Leafs needing to figure out what is best for their prospect while recognizing the importance to him of pursuing a Harvard education. The Leafs have time with Abruzzese, and there will need to be decisions both from the NCAA and the NHL on how they will treat college prospects who are having their development impacted. Will will need to see if there will be a 2020-21 ECHL season, and while there is likely to be a 2020-21 AHL season, we’ll have to see when that will start as well.
It’s an uncomfortable holding pattern, but there is a certain appeal to getting Abruzzese in a Marlies uniform sooner rather than later.
Thanks to irishcedar on Reddit for the inspiration for this post.