Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has once again looked to the NCAA for backup and has signed University of Maine forward Spencer Abbott. The 23-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native grew up idolizing the Maple Leafs and now has a chance to play for them.
The 5'10", 175-pound Abbott had a highly successful 2011-12 season for the Maine Black Bears. In only 39 games this season, he led the NCAA in scoring with 21 goals and 41 assists for a total of 62 points. He was named one of the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, and it is almost a sure thing that he will be named one of the top three finalists.
He was named the Hockey East Player of the Year, Hockey East Player of the Month in December and February and Hockey East Player of the Week three times. He was also named to the Hockey East first All-Star team, which is better than New York Rangers prospect Chris Kreider, who was on the second All-Star team.
Several teams expressed interest in Abbott. Calgary and Toronto were the only teams known to have put in offers. He went to bed Tuesday night and decided to play for the team he grew up loving. The Leafs even invited Abbott to spring training last season, but he declined, opting to play his final year in college.
But could Abbott be ready to be a Maple Leaf by next season? He certainly believes so.
“When I came into this league, I was more of an offensive guy," he said. "I’ve been trying really hard to get better on the other side of the puck, defensively. It’s tough to do, especially at the next level. I hope to be a two-way player.”
Not the biggest player out there, Abbott worked out with former Maple Leaf Gary Roberts at a training institute last summer, and he will more than likely go back this season. If he can get stronger, it could be very possible that he might make the team.
Leafs assistant GM Dave Nonis commented on Abbott, saying, “he’s a high-end talent...he’s going to start with the Marlies and we’ll go from there...his hockey sense and vision are things that can’t be coached.” When asked about the prospect of Abbott making the team, he said, “He’s got parts of his game that you can’t teach. We’ll see how it translates. He has a chance.”
Nonis also said that the Leafs see him as a top-six player.
Abbott will turn 24 next month, just a little bit younger than a little-known player named Phil Kessel. Having gone through a full four years of college, he's had experience at an amateur level and has shown he might have what it takes to play in the NHL.
Abbott will report to the Marlies for the rest of the season and will be eligible for the AHL playoffs, further strengthening the Marlies' push for the Calder Cup. If he is vital to their success in the playoffs, he is going to be given every opportunity to make the Leafs next season.
Abbott's favorite players are Doug Gilmour and Pavel Datsyuk. If he can become half as good as those two, the Leafs have made an excellent signing.
From one Hamiltonian to another, I sure hope he makes it.