If you check NHL Central Scouting’s current list of the best North American draft prospects, you’ve got to scroll down – way down – before you’ll come across Ori Abramson’s name.
There, listed in 210th place, is the six-foot-three, 215-pound defenceman.
Although his positioning suggests he’d be a late-round pick, it wasn’t that long ago that Abramson wouldn’t have made the list at all. Although plenty big, the knock on him was that he didn’t skate very well.
“I was always big and strong, but I never had the foot speed or confidence other kids had,” the 18-year-old acknowledged.
With a burning ambition to advance his game, Abramson decided to do something about it. “I found a Russian skating instructor, and he lengthened my stride,” he explained.
For two years, five or six times a week, two hours at a time, Abramson hit the ice “working purely on skating.”
The results are there in the Central Scouting list. It’s also been apparent on the ice. The improved skating helped the Toronto teen develop with the Bay City Breakers, a Kingston, Mass., team that plays in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
Division 1 NCAA teams also took note of the big kid who could skate. Several college teams pursued him, and not long ago, the Breakers announced he’d come to terms with the Providence College Friars, a Hockey East team that boasts some big name hockey people among its alumni, including Lou Lamoriello, Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and Hal Gill.
Despite offers from other New England NCAA schools, he felt he would best fit in with the Friars’ rebuilding program, headed by coach Nate Leaman.
“I have been impressed with the success he brought in his previous head coaching job, and I know that he will enjoy the same success with Providence and its great hockey history and tradition. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from him and to play in Hockey East,” Abramson said in a statement.
His American opportunity is something he’s been striving toward, but it was far from a sure thing, especially when his skating was still a drawback.
“It started at 14 or 15 when I knew I had to do something about my foot speed, because I couldn’t keep up in AAA,” he said.
Abramson played a couple of seasons with the Brampton Capitals in the tier II Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), a springboard for players eyeing the NCAA. As his skating improved, he got a look from the OHL St. Mike’s Majors, who drafted him as a 16-year-old. He attended their camp, but going in, he knew he’d only last two days. He’d already set his sights set on the NCAA, and he’d be ineligible if he spent a third day with the OHL team.
Nevertheless, the experience was eye-opening: “I saw how fast the game is at the next level,” he said.
Back in the OJHL, he was pretty successful. He was nominated for rookie of the year as one of only 10 16-year-olds in the league.
In the meantime, he continued to work on his skating, focusing on “explosiveness” in the first three steps.
Under the mentorship of Vince Laise, an assistant coach with the Oakville Blades, whom he trained with at the Varsity Hockey gym in Brampton, he began to look to Hockey East as a preferred destination for his post-junior development.
He agreed to play for the Breakers, figuring it would give him greater exposure to New England Division 1 schools. “It was an adventure,” his father, Lanning, said. “He wanted to move away from home and live in a house with hockey players.”
By the time he got to Bay State, “I was one of the fastest guys on the ice,” Abramson said. Unfortunately, his season was marred by a hip injury suffered when he was checked through an open door at practice.
There was another setback due to a bout of mononucleosis, which sent him home until his health improved.
Still, his coach at Bay State liked what he saw. David McCauley said Abramson adapted well to a new league and new style of play. “Before he got injured, he was really starting to come along. He was learning the defensive side of things. I think his positional play got better, which allowed him to be more effective. He made a good first pass and was able to join the rush.”
Abramson’s strong work ethic also was evident. “He’s a great kid, really works his tail off,” McCauley said. “I think the kid’s got a great future because of his work ethic.”
His dad has seen the hours of dry-land and on-ice training pay off nicely.
“His story is that he wasn’t a blue chip kid from the age of six. Ori didn’t become the best kid on the ice until he was 17, but he worked his ass off to get there,” Lanning said. “The more people told him he couldn’t, the harder he worked.”