Last offseason the Tampa Bay Lightning organization tried to rely on a formula that worked for them in the previous season. Find a prolific scorer in the QMJHL that wasn’t drafted and sign him to a low-cost, multi-year contract. While that move yielded a bountiful return with Alex Barre-Boulet in 2018-19, the results for Peter Abbandonato in 2019-20 were a little more mixed.
Abbandonato is technically not even a Lightning signing, yet. He signed a two-year, AHL contract with the Syracuse Crunch in the summer of 2019 after leading the QMJHL with 111 points (29 goals, 82 assists) for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies the previous seasons. However, since the Lightning work so closely with the Crunch we can consider him a Lightning prospect.
The 5’11”, 192 lb. center didn’t quite match Barre-Boulet’s rookie season, but he did finish strong following a late-season recall from Orlando and put up 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 27 games overall with the Crunch. An early season injury to Alexander Volkov helped Abbandonato see some playing time at the start of the year and he acquitted himself well, scoring twice in his first three games.
One of the surprises to start the season was that Coach Ben Groulx gave the rookie some ice time on the power play right from the start. He rewarded his coach’s faith by scoring power play goals in back-to-back games, but then fell into a bit of a scoring funk and was in-and-out of the line-up while playing bottom-six minutes when he was on the ice.
He did seem to play tentatively early on, and he played at the perimeter a lot. In November he was loaned to Orlando for a few games before being recalled. Then, in January, he was sent down for about a month to find his game. He played well for the Solar Bears, recording 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 15 games while displaying some of the playmaking skills he was noted for.
After being recalled to Syracuse in early February, he was a much more assertive player and seemed more comfortable with the speed of the AHL game. He put up 10 points in the 13 games before the season ended prematurely. It was a promising sign that all 10 of those points came at even strength.
His skill set lies in his playmaking ability. He played center for most of junior career, but with Syracuse saw most of ice time on the wing. Like a lot of players in the system, he will likely spend time at all of the forward positions, but his path to the NHL will probably be on the wing. Abbandonato has excellent vision on the ice and the innate ability to put the puck in the right spot for his teammates.
There is nothing overwhelming about his shot, but it is accurate and has a little deception in it. With regular playing time on a top line in the AHL it wouldn’t be shocking to see him put up 20+ goals and 25-35 assists. He should get a shot to put up those type of numbers once the Crunch get their season under way. There are some spots to be filled up front, and he has the talent to secure a role in the top-six and on the power play.
There are some real positives in the goal shown above (the first professional goal of his career). He reads the play really well, starting out on the point and then drifting to the net as he sees the play develop. Abbandonato adjusts nicely to a pass that slightly handcuffs him, and still gets off a really nice one-timer that beats the goaltender.
Here is a nice look at his wrist shot as he beats new teammate Christopher Gibson on a two-on-one. With his head up he can see that the passing lane to Danick Martel is cut off so he takes the shot himself. That’s an excellent read and often a rookie might feel that he needs to dish that off to the veteran. Instead he calls his own number.
Another two-on-one and this time he dishes it. How do you recognize a playmaker? How about with a little chip pass over the stretched out defender and right onto a teammate’s stick?
His defense can still use some work - not surprising for someone coming off a couple of seasons in juniors where he was focused on offense. Driving the action on the ice instead of reacting to it would help boost his game a lot as well. He isn’t a blazingly fast skater, but I would consider him to be above average, and with decent size he could be an effective forechecker in Syracuse’s scheme.
Does his future lie in the NHL? Possibly. A lot will depend on how he performs this season. If the Lightning turn that AHL contract into an entry-level deal, it will be an indicator that they like how his game is progressing. He is still just 22-years-old and has a season or two to improve his game to true NHL-prospect levels, especially if he improves his defense. He’s not likely to be a top-six forward in the NHL, but could be a third-liner that has the ability to score a few big goals here and there.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for Abbandonato when it came to the rankings this year. A couple of writers left him off of their rankings while the majority had him in the 16-19 range. Personally I had him at 24 and am already doubting that. For me, it’s a glut of forwards in the system right now and his mixed performance last season. If he can take that next step, I would have no problem bumping him up the rankings quite a bit.
For the readers, he didn’t make the collective top 25, which isn’t a surprise for someone who bounced between the ECHL and AHL in his first pro season. Those who did rank him had him towards the bottom of the list.