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DEVELOPMENT CAMP PROFILE: Third year in 'The Q' taught Abramov new tricks

Dynamic, diminutive forward played center and expanded his leadership going back to the QMJHL.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

His domination was so thorough that most people felt forward Vitaly Abramov had nothing left to learn in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

In 2015-16, prior to the Blue Jackets taking him in the third round (No. 65) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Abramov had 93 points on 38 goals and 55 assists - not to mention a plus-36 rating in 63 games. He had 13 more points in 10 playoff games (seven goals, six assists) and was just getting warmed up.

The following season, Abramov's first as a Columbus prospect, he was even better.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound point machine led "The Q" in 2016-17 with 104 points (46 goals, 58 assists) and won the prestigious Michel Briere Trophy as the league's MVP. Boosted by that, he came to training camp last year intent on making the NHL roster with the Blue Jackets. Instead, back to juniors, which was tough news to hear.

"I wanted to make the team last year and have the same abilities here, but it's life, you know, and I'll be back stronger," said Abramov, who's attending the Blue Jackets' development camp this week but staying off the ice while rehabbing his surgically-repaired left wrist. "[I got past it] right away. I [went] there and the season was going there, and I just started to play hockey again."

Video: Abramov describes his approach to the game

He also began to dominate again, in what turned out to be a second straight 104-point season.

Abramov slid right back into his spot as a highly-skilled winger on the top line for the Gatineau Olympiques and racked up 26 points on 12 goals and 14 assists in his first 16 games. He was then traded to the Victoriaville Tigres, and that's when he got the educational opportunity many figured wasn't available in junior hockey.

Abramov was switched from the wing to center in Victoriaville and he handled it well. He had 78 points on 33 goals and 45 assists in 40 games after the trade and worked on all the responsibilities of a center - from playing a 200-foot game to winning face-offs.

A look at his secondary numbers showed he excelled in those areas too.

Abramov's plus-47 rating was lofty, to say the least, and he won 57.5 percent of 948 face-off attempts. He also took care of business in the defensive zone.

"I think I had to improve my defensive game a little," said Abramov, who's added strength and bulk to his frame in the weight room. "Center has [the puck] more, controls more pucks than wingers, controls the plays, but it doesn't matter for me. It means more to improve myself as a defensive player."

It could mean a lot to his odds of making the Blue Jackets if he proves himself as a center in training camp. Columbus is looking to build depth down the middle of the ice, at the NHL level and throughout its system, so those who can play there could get a bump in value - especially those who create offense.

"We've talked about him here in meetings," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said of Abramov during his season-ending press conference. "There's one guy on our depth chart that can score. He scores everywhere he's been. Whether he can do it in the National Hockey League remains to be seen, but that's a guy we should at least take a good look at, whether he can do it in the National Hockey League."

VISIT BLUE JACKETS DEVELOPMENT CAMP CENTRAL

Abramov might start camp back on the wing, which he also enjoys, but the past season gave him experience at center, which gives him versatility heading into training camp. Coaches love versatile forwards, who give them more lineup options.

They like leadership too, which Abramov also showed in Victoriaville.

"We had a pretty good team, so I was a leader," he said. "I [learned] how to be, like, leader on a team and say [something] between periods, so that was a big thing for me … I was one of the oldest guys, so I could do that."

Now 20, on the verge of his first professional season, Abramov will be one of the youngest again - whether he's in the NHL with the Blue Jackets or American Hockey League with the Cleveland Monsters. Either league will be a challenge, but he's looking forward to proving himself all over again.

The cast that's currently on his left wrist will come off in six weeks, giving him time to fully recover for training camp, where he plans to show what he learned in his third QMJHL season.

"I think I got stronger mentally and I think that I can show [that] this year," Abramov said. "I can show my best game at the right place and the right moments. We'll see. I'm looking forward to coming to training camp, [to] show my best. I want to make them find a place for me."

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