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CHL Notebook: Let the Vitalii Abramov bidding war begin

Vitalii Abramov, the QMJHL’s reigning most valuable player and scoring champion, rejoined the Gatineau Olympiques on Sunday, perhaps begrudgingly, and will play once his IIHF transfer is finalized. That closed the book on one drama, where there was speculation about the 19-year-old forward trying to decamp to Finland rather than return to junior after being cut by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and might have opened another. With Gatineau not projected for a huge year, the West Division franchise could have its doors blown off with a blockbuster trade offer.

Abramov, at the QMJHL level, is a treat to watch as a speedster off the wing who seems to have an innate sense of where the puck is headed. The numbers that the Jackets third-rounder has put up — his 104 points last season were the most by an import player in the Q since Alexander Radulov 11 years ago, and he had 93 as a 17-year-old — are pretty self-explanatory. His presence in Gatineau hasn’t translated into team success in the regular season or playoffs, which some observers felt was a mark against him being the MVP last season.

That lack of a playoff run is one box Abramov still has to check before leaving junior, contrary to the opinion that he has nothing left to learn playing among teenagers. Whether that comes with Gatineau, which last advanced past the second round in 2011, remains to be seen. In one interview last week, Olympiques coach Éric Landry seemed to challenge Abramov, likening the Russian’s situation to that of a 19-year-old Claude Giroux back in 2007. Giroux, also coming off a 100-point year and an extended stay with the Philadelphia Flyers, came back and led Gatineau to the President Cup.

The other side of the coin, though, is that Olympiques owner and general manager Alain Sear seemed to give a non-denial denial when Le Droit newspaper asked whether Abramov might be moved, using the phrase “dossier pour un autre jour” (a file for another day). The QMJHL’s trading restrictions that permit only imports and 20-year-old players to be moved in October and November would seem to make Abramov just that much rarer of a commodity.

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Fifth year for Day

The impulse is to write that Sean Day is a Windsor Spitfire again, if not for long, but it might not be that cut-and-dried with the 19-year-old defenceman.

Since Day become a junior one year early as an exceptional status player in 2013, the New York Rangers had the option to start him in the AHL. Ultimately, the smooth-skating defenceman was returned to Windsor over the weekend, where he will have the chance to play major minutes on a back end that, in his absence, was using four rookies at times.

While it’s perhaps not what would have been forecast for Day four years ago, it’s not like prospects have to develop on a fixed schedule, or else. The six-foot-three, 230-pound Day made a great leap forward with his situational play last season in Windsor, where he fit in well on a team that allowed just 182 goals (third-fewest in the 20-team OHL).

Sean Day of the Windsor Spitfires. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

As for whether Day spends the entire season in Windsor, it is not unheard of for a final-year defenceman to stay in one place for stability’s stake.

Ryan Mantha spent the duration of last season on an eighth-place Niagara team before earning a free-agent deal with Edmonton, for instance. Similarly, Stephen Desrocher, then Toronto property, played out his eligibility on a Kingston team that just squeaked into first-round home-ice advantage in a very shallow Eastern Conference. It’s not always about stockpiling future draft choices.

Knights, Steelheads slow out of gate

Seeing the London Knights and Mississauga Steelheads sitting 18th and 20th overall in the OHL is the clearest reminder that the season is only two weeks old. Both will be watching the NHL’s roster deadline at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday with bated breath.

The Knights (1-4-0-0) have had structural issues that can’t be excused by NHL-related absenteeism, with just 10 goals across their first five games and only one outing with at least 30 shots on goal. Allowing 10 special teams goals in a five-game stretch is also very non-London-like. Left wing Max Jones (ANA) is back and scored his first two goals of the season on Sunday. Meantime, D Victor Mete (MTL) and LW Alex Formenton (OTT) have gone against assumptions by earning extended stays in the NHL.

The Steelheads (0-4-0-0) also have no timeline on when they will know who’s coming back. Eighteen-year-old Owen Tippett (FLA) will start out in the NHL, while incumbent captain Mike McLeod (NJ) sustained a leg injury during the final week of pre-season with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils also opted to place D Nathan Bastian in the OHL, creating an increased workload for 19-year-old D Jacob Moverare (LA).

London, based on form, likely won’t be down for long. Mississauga has the benefit of the doubt after finishing as the OHL runner-up last season after spending the first two months of the season in the division basement.

Canadian NHL team prospect of the week: Eemeli Rasanen, D, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

It was a good weekend for six-foot-seven defenders in the OHL. Rasanen (TOR) scored six points and helped the Kingston Frontenacs get 4-of-6 possible points while playing three road games in fewer than 48 hours. The Maple Leafs second-round choice (No. 59 overall) was a two-way workhorse when Kingston defeated London 5-0 on Friday, creating three goals through well-placed point shots and making a tape-to-tape pass that put teammate Sam Field on a breakaway. Rasanen also helped goalie Mario Peccia get his first OHL shutout.

Logan Stanley (WPG) also contributed five points whilst helping the Kitchener Rangers go 2-0-1-0 during his first games since returning from his second NHL camp.

New name to know: Justin Ducharme, RW, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)

The 17-year-old Ducharme, with five goals in as many games for the Titan, has already beat his tally from the Quebec AAA midget league two years ago, his draft year. That goes to show what an extra season of minor hockey, and physical maturity, can do for a player.

Ducharme was only 5-foot-8 at the time of the 2016 QMJHL draft, but is now a sturdier 6-foot and 179 pounds. The 17-year-old has had at least two shots in all five Titan games.