TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Columbus Blue Jackets forward prospect Vitaly Abramov is 19, but his age isn't keeping him from setting a big goal heading into training camp.
"I want to make NHL this year and I feel that I can do it," said Abramov, who was selected by the Blue Jackets in the third round (No. 65) of the 2016 NHL Draft. "I have improved my game and my [defensive] zone coverage, and I think I can do it."
Playing with Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, he won the Michel Briere Trophy as the league's most valuable player and had a QMJHL-high 104 points (46 goals, 58 assists). Now he's intent on convincing the Blue Jackets he's ready for the NHL this season.
Another step in that process will come when he plays for the Blue Jackets in the championship of the 2017 Traverse City Prospects Tournament at Centre Ice Arena on Tuesday. He's been skating on the top line with two other players selected in the 2016 draft, center Pierre-Luc Dubois (No. 3) and left wing Calvin Thurkauf (No. 185).
Abramov (5-foot-10, 181 pounds) got his first taste of professional hockey last season, with four points (one goal, three assists) in four games with Cleveland of the American Hockey League.
Because of his age, Abramov can't play full-time in the AHL, meaning if he doesn't make the Blue Jackets he would have to return to Gatineau or possibly play in Europe.
"I'm not even thinking about it right now, that I can go back," said Abramov, who has 197 points (84 goals, 113 assists) in 129 QMJHL games in two seasons with Gatineau. "My goal is to make Columbus this year and that's all I'm focusing on. I want to show them my best game in training camp and we'll see what happens. I'm really focusing on making the team."
Abramov would fit well on a Blue Jackets team that had the third-youngest roster in the League last season at 26.2, according to Hockey-reference.com. Brandon Dubinsky, 31, is the only forward older than 30.
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has been impressed by Abramov's focus.
"That's the approach we want from every player attending the camp," Kekalainen said. "If you don't come to the camp trying to make the team, you've got the wrong mindset, in my opinion. That doesn't mean I don't like the word 'realistic,' but you make your own realism by working hard, and Vitaly is a great example of a guy who's been taking big steps in his career in the last couple years. And the way he's playing here [in Traverse City], he's definitely making everybody take notice of him."
Training camp is the next step. Abramov said he's looking forward to skating with NHL players, including fellow Russia-born forward Artemi Panarin, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brandon Saad on June 23.
"They lost Brandon Saad, but they got Artemi Panarin," Abramov said, smiling. "It's part of the business, part of the game, but of course … he's one more Russian on the team and that's nice, honestly. We're from the same area in Russia so it's really nice for me."