Vitaly Abramov is the kind of hockey player that demands notice.
In his first year with the Jackets organization, and second playing for the Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL, the 18-year-old has won the Jean Béliveau Trophy as the league's leading scorer (46-58-104), and is one of three finalists for the Michel Brière Trophy that is awarded to the league's MVP.
His on-ice performance put him among the top offensive performers in the QMJHL this year. He was first in total points, primary points (88), 5-on-5 goals (37) and 5-on-5 primary points (65). Only four of his 58 assists were secondary helpers.
"He has a knack for doing what the other team doesn't know you're going to do," Jackets development coach Chris Clark said. "He's exciting to watch. Every time he touches the puck he thinks it's a scoring chance. He's fast, he's got skill, he'll go into the corners, he'll go to the front of the net, and he'll take a big hit and pop right back up. He does all those things I love watching."
The Blue Jackets selected Abramov with the 65th overall pick in the 2016 Draft when the 18-year-old already had one successful season of North American hockey under his belt in which he led all QMJHL rookies in goals, assists, points and was tied for fifth overall in league scoring.
Video: Meet Blue Jackets' third-round pick Vitaly Abramov!
This season, he's been working under the tutelage of Gatineau's head coach Eric Landry, Clark, and Jackets' high performance consultant Nelson Ayotte to continue his development.
"He's physically getting stronger," Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "As a small player you want to get more explosive, move faster and quicker. I think he's doing all of that and he's also getting used to the North American style more and going into the small areas.
"He's fearless for a small guy. He'll drive to the net, I saw evidence of that when I saw him and that's where all the goals are scored so he's doing it. He's having a great year."
The exciting part of the challenge for Abramov will be to continue to fine-tune his game without losing his offensive creativity. It's not a unique challenge, Clark says. Most younger players go through the same thing.
"He's got to pick his spots when to be his creative self," Clark says. "A lot of young guys don't realize situational awareness yet. It's about learning there is a time and a place for everything. If it's the end of a shift and you're tired, do you really need to go one-on-two, and if the puck gets turned over are you going to get back and go on defense."
Clark checks in with Abramov frequently, and visits him throughout the season. They talk about the little things to work on like not taking too long of shifts or knowing when to not go after the scoring chance if you're tired.
There's one thing that Abramov can't change, and that is his stature. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't fit the traditional build of an NHL hockey player. But just as players like Cam Atkinson have shown, that's not a problem for a player like Abramov.
"The game has changed," Clark said. "If these guys can make it and if they can produce, it doesn't matter how tall they are. He's got that ability to be strong. He's a great skater so he doesn't get knocked off the puck easily. He doesn't shy away from anything."
Off the ice Abramov is impressing as well. The forward left his native Russia and came to North America two years ago, and is now learning the French and English languages. It's a credit to how much he's committed to doing what it takes to reach the NHL.
"His determination is probably his biggest asset," Clark says. "If he keeps playing the way he does, and keeps progressing, I think he'll definitely make the NHL. And if does, it's pure determination. He's got that will in his game."