TORONTO– Veteran Keith Aucoin had some advice for his rookie line mate and fellow pro walk-on Spencer Abbott.
“Guys that are drafted usually get a chance before you, it’s tough. When you get a chance you have to capitalize on it because you don’t know if you’re going to get another one,” said Aucoin.
At 34-years-old, Aucoin is 10 years older than the freshman and has played for seven different AHL clubs since his pro debut in 2001, when Abbott was 13-years-old still playing junior hockey in his hometown of Hamilton, Ont. Aucoin went undrafted after four seasons at Norwich University and has had 102 appearances in the NHL split between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals.
Abbott, like Aucoin, went undrafted and was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in March 2012 after four seasons at the University of Maine.
Recently Dallas Eakins placed the two forwards together on the Toronto Marlies top line and the head coach is starting to see a similarity that goes further than being ignored in the draft after NCAA careers.
“They really read the game the same way,” said Eakins. “They’re able to create holes and they see when a hole’s there. (And) both guys have ice in their veins when they have the puck. Some guys on our team, they have the puck in a tight situation and a sense of panic almost sets in, but these guys heart rates never change.”
“We’re both pass-first players and a couple guys have said that to me,” said Abbott about his resemblance to Aucoin. “I just try to take what he does in practice and put it into my game.”
Aucoin, who recently moved into 10th all-time on the AHL scoring list with 805 career points, has made a living setting up his teammates and Abbott looks to be attempting the same.
The veteran has had three seasons with at least 70 assists since 2007 and has 578 assists in 738 AHL games while the prospect has chipped in 10 assists in his first 12 games this year and is making it difficult for the coach to turn him into the healthy scratch he was to start the season when Toronto had an inflated roster size.
“Boy it’s tough to take a guy like that out of the lineup,” said Eakins after Abbott recorded his first three-point performance in early December.
“I think Abbott is a lot more skilled than I am,” said Aucoin. “He’s got a lot better hands.”
While play making is their specialty, the two find themselves comparable in other ways as well.
Both are well below the average size of today’s typical hockey player.
Aucoin and Abbott are both just 5’9, although Aucoin has the heavier build by about 15 pounds at 187, but they have found ways to use their size to their advantage.
“Being a small guy growing up, you have to learn to play with bigger guys and you can use your size to your advantage if you’re smart about it,” said Abbott. “That’s what Keith does and I’m trying to do the same.”
“I think when you see a lot of smaller players they usually have very good hockey sense because they haven’t bulled their way through the game,” said Eakins. “They’ve had to think their way through. Both guy’s skill level and the way they think is such a good fit for our team.”
Currently Aucoin leads the Marlies in scoring with seven goals and 30 points in 27 games and his 24 assists is the most of any forward in the AHL at this point of the season.
With age and a lockout in effect, another shot at the NHL is unclear at the moment for the Waltham. Mass. native, but time is still in Abbott’s favour and his recent play has caught the attention of his locker room in a positive way.
“Right now he’s getting his chances and he’s making them count,” said Aucoin.