Rouyn-Noranda Huskies centerman Peter Abbandonato used his time wisely during the 2018 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
When he wasn’t playing for the St. Louis Blues’ entry in the annual event, the talented 20-year-old quietly watched the big club’s players prepare for their own training camp. Abbandonato learned by observing the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and Alex Pietrangelo.
“We saw their body type and how they prepare for their practices,” Abbandonato said. “It was a great experience and a huge learning step in my career. They’re bigger guys, they’re thick and extremely muscular. It was nice to see what it takes.”
The undrafted Abbandonato hopes to attend another pro camp next year. And just past the midway mark of the season, the fourth-year veteran is making a strong case for himself.
Abbandonato leads the QMJHL with 63 points and 44 assists, production that has helped the Huskies to first overall in the league and No. 2 in the CHL’s Week 13 Kia Top 10 rankings.
“I thought about it before this season started,” Abbandonato said about the prospects of playing pro. “It’s always in the back of my head, but I can’t think about it too much. Thankfully, I had a really good start to my season.”
That wasn’t surprising to Huskies head coach and general manager Mario Pouliot.
“The first time we met together this summer, he told me he wanted to be one of the top overage players in the league, and to have a positive impact on the team as a leader,” the bench boss said. “Since the first day of training camp, he’s been walking the talk. He’s a really smart kid and a very good leader.”
Pouliot said Abbandonato’s main strengths are speed, puck-handling, vision and hockey sense. The player’s commitment to improving has enhanced those skills even more.
“The biggest adjustment he’s made since the start of the season is that he’s moving his feet,” the coach said. “I think the last couple of seasons, he was playing more from the outside. Now, he’s using his speed and attacking the net. He’s using his vision, he’s a good playmaker, too. He’s putting it all together. He’s a threat on the rush and he can beat the D with his speed, and with his shot, too.”
Draft and develop
Abbandonato’s fellow overagers with the Huskies are defenceman Jacob Neveu and goaltender Samuel Harvey. The three were drafted by Rouyn-Noranda in 2014, and won the President Cup together two years later. That championship season started an impressive three-year run in which the club averaged a league-best 45 wins per season.
“We have only two guys acquired by trade, and we signed two really good free agents,” Pouliot said. “The rest were all drafted and developed by us, and we are really proud of that. We have a really good group of scouts and we have to keep going with the way we develop our players.”
Abbandonato insists the familiarity creates camaraderie.
“Our chemistry has been amazing,” he said. “There’s no individual [cliques]. It’s one big group, and it helps a lot on the ice. It’s a huge part of our organization and our success on the ice. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think we have a good enough team to go the distance again and give people a run for their money, for sure.”
While many overagers continue their hockey careers in university, some sign pro deals and end up in the minors. Then there’s former Saint John Sea Dogs centre Matthew Highmore, who signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks during his overage year and appeared in 13 games for the big club the following season.
While Abbandonato is excited about the different possibilities, he’s intent on savouring his final Q campaign.
“I just have to keep playing my game and control what I can control,” he said. “It’s my last year and it goes by fast. I tell guys to embrace the moment and enjoy yourself, because one day, it’s going to be all over and you want to look back on these days and have no regrets.”