Other NCAA players in competition with Schultz
Maine Black Bears’ Spencer Abbott eyes NHL
Published On Thu Mar 22 2012Email
Spencer Abbott of Hamilton, a senior with the Maine Black Bears, hopes to parlay four quality seasons in Maine into an NHL career.
Kevin McGranSports Reporter
It would appear Spencer Abbott did the smart thing. But then, he’s going to be a college graduate.
By staying in college for his full four years, the undrafted Hamilton native may have given himself his best chance at making the NHL, according to a study that shows four-year college players are more successful long-term than those who turn pro early.
Certainly, the 23-year-old left winger is going to have at least half the teams in the NHL lining up to sign him once the season ends for the Maine Black Bears.
“I think I’ve really developed as a player in my four years there,” said Abbott, citing the Maple Leafs as his favourite team and Doug Gilmour and Pavel Datsyuk as his favourite players. “Every year, I’ve learned something new. This year has obviously been a special one for me.”
Abbott, whose status is questionable for Maine’s opening game Saturday against Minnesota Duluth in the Northeast Regional tournament in Worcester, Mass., due to a concussion, resisted the temptation to leave the University of Maine early when the pros started sniffing around last season.
It paid off. He had his best season offensively and was named this week one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award that goes annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey.
Too small to play major junior, Abbott played Junior A with the Hamilton Red Wings. He had a late growth spurt to reach 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. He was an alternate captain on the Black Bears.
Abbott’s offensive numbers rose each year with Maine — he led the team in scoring this year with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists). He believes he’s ready for the NHL.
“When I came into this league, I was more of an offensive guy. 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.”
Abbott worked out last summer with Gary Roberts at his high performance training institute and the plan is to go back this summer to get ready for life in the pros.
“Speed, skill and strength is what I’ve been trying to implement in my game. I’ve been working hard in the off-season. (I’ve got to) put on more weight, get faster, bigger, stronger. I think I’ve done that consecutive years.”
Stuart Hyman, who owns the Hamilton Red Wings as well as International Scouting Services, which ranks players, says Abbott has what it takes to play pro.
“He’s got excellent speed and really good hockey sense,” said Hyman. “He’s got what it takes to make it at the next level. He’s focused. He started as a younger kid within our (Hamilton) organization and his game really blossomed at the college level.
“The great thing about Spencer is he’s got the right attitude, he’s very committed, very focused and I would never count him out.”
Scouts, GMs and assistant GMs will be spread out across the U.S. watching prospects in the NCAA’s four regional tournaments, leading to the Frozen Four championship game April 7 in Tampa, Fla. Top-ranked Boston College and Air Force are the other teams in the Northeast Regional.
Once a team is eliminated, the undrafted players on those teams are considered free agents and could sign a pro contract.
Some may want to continue with school. Some may want to come out early. Many, like Abbott, will have finished with college eligibility and will be looking for the right fit — perhaps the most generous contract, perhaps their favourite team, perhaps the easiest route to the NHL.
A study by College Hockey Inc. shows it’s better — for the player and for the NHL — for college players to play out their full eligibility before turning pro.
• Seventy-four players who have appeared in the NHL this year were signed out of college as undrafted free agents; 72 per cent of those stayed in school all four years.
• Since the lockout, 52 free agents have left school early. Only seven of those players have played more than 80 games in the NHL. Twenty-five have left in the last three years — only Tyler Bozak and Chris Tanev are currently on NHL rosters — and five of those are no longer under NHL contracts.
“I definitely recommend college,” Abbott said. “I just learned so much at the university and learned how to be a two-way player. You go to junior, there’s a lot of offence, you don’t really see two sides of the puck.
“Coaches here do a great job of teaching you how to play on both sides of the puck. That’s the most important thing.”
NCAA free agents
Spencer Abbott has already caught the attention of NHL scouts. Here’s five more college free agents likely headed for pro careers:
Western Michigan, D
Sophomore has good size (6-3), supposedly ready to step in and play. Reports suggest he wants to return for junior season. Said to be the most sought after college player of the season.
Minnesota Duluth, F
Sophomore is son of former NFL running back Ted Brown, and the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s Frozen Four. Great speed. Pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor crimes as the result of a summertime run-in with police. Had no comment to reporters on issue.
Junior from Bayfield, Ont. A pure goal-scorer (25 goals) with good size (6-3, 200). MVP of the ECAC tournament.
Minnesota Duluth, F
Senior from Thunder Bay, Ont., who centres J.T. Brown’s line. Excellent two-way player whose game has grown by leaps and bounds in four years. Recorded career-high 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) this season.
Senior is primarily a defensive defenceman with decent size (6-2, 200). Teammate of Leafs draft pick Tyler Biggs.