Maple Leafs Can’t Give Up on Nick Robertson

This week news broke, yet again, that Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Nick Robertson would be out for the remainder of the season after undergoing season-ending surgery on his injured shoulder.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120

It’s disappointing and frustrating on all levels as the 21-year-old had earned a few more games in the NHL this season and was seemingly finding his footing with the big club after a number of injuries prolonged his development with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies over the past few seasons.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The lack of growth to his game sparked conversations around Robertson on whether or not he was a player the organization should keep and continue to develop or move on from and use as a trade piece at some point during the year. Obviously, the injury halted that conversation, and while he can’t be held accountable for his continued bad luck when it comes to the injury front, the discussion around his future with the Maple Leafs continues to be a talking point for fans of the organization.

With that in mind, even thinking of moving on from Robertson should be considered a mistake by the organization for a number of reasons — and it begins with his play when he gets consistent stretches.

Robertson’s Production Not A Concern

Say what you will about his preseason play coming into this season — sure, it’s just preseason — but Robertson cleaned up offensively for the Maple Leafs in an effort to crack their opening-night roster. He finished with three goals and eight points in five games and, still, he didn’t make the opening night lineup.

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

But it didn’t take long. On Oct. 20, with his brother’s Dallas Stars in town, Robertson got into the lineup and tucked two goals, including the game-winner in overtime. He played over 14 minutes and had four shots on goal.

From there, he had a short run before getting injured and suddenly he was fighting for a spot in the lineup again following his return. Still, Sheldon Keefe managed to get him into the lineup here and there, but consistency remained his biggest enemy.

Latest News & Highlights

Before the shoulder injury he put up five points in 15 games, but he was being sprinkled up and down the lineup — line mates and playing time weren’t a consistent part of his game either. Because of it, his defensive zone coverage was sparse at times and there were criticism — albeit constructive — coming from Keefe as to what Robertson needed to do to get in the lineup and stick there.

However, just as he was getting a couple more reps early in December, he was injured again. This time it was the shoulder injury that required the recent surgery ending his season after playing just 1:58 against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 8.

Related: 4 Maple Leafs’ Trade Targets From Coyotes-Flyers Game

As you can see by his numbers, the production is there. With consistency in playing time — like with anyone — he could push himself into a top-six role at some point down the road. If his determination and drive are anything like what we’ve seen in recent offseasons, Robertson will find a way to force the organization’s hand to get himself into the Maple Leafs’ lineup.

Robertson’s Determination Is Evident in His Play

If his growth over the past couple of season isn’t enough to show how badly Robertson wants to be a regular at the NHL level, his poise when being scratched this season and his professionalism in dealing with the questions from members of the media has shown that he can fit in at the next level.

Think back to 2021, when Hayley Wickenheiser — who at the time was the team’s Senior Director of Player Development — spoke on Robertson’s role with the team both at development camp and moving forward.

From a development camp standpoint, he had stepped into a leadership role. It happened more so this season and it showed in camp and during the preseason with his play. While his opportunities have been cut short due to injury after injury, his growth hasn’t been ignored by the Maple Leafs’ brass.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I think actually for Nick, one of the secrets for him might be to dial it back at times and relax more into who he is as a person and as a player,” said Wickenheiser back in 2021. “I think he himself saw that the hockey (at a pro level) was a lot better than he anticipated and some of the things you can do in Junior you can’t get away with at the next level.”

That’s where the determination comes in. With the puck, we’ve seen more patience when he’s attacking offensively. The poise has given him a better opportunity to survey the ice and see opportunities while created more dangerous chances.

His growth in that aspect of his game should force Maple Leafs’ brass to believe that he can make the same adjustments to his game defensively. Changes to that area could put him over the edge as an NHL-calibre player, but that also comes with consistent play. When he is healthy, he needs to be in the lineup. Otherwise, simulating game situations at practice might not be enough to help Robertson take the next step in his development.

Robertson’s Youth Still Should Be Considered

On top of everything, consider the fact that Robertson is still just 21 years old. When the 2023-24 season kicks off he’ll be 22 and still considered a strong prospect for the organization even given the up-and-down seasons he’s had health-wise.

While it would be unfair to compare the two, his brother Jason didn’t have his breakout season until he was 21 back in 2020-21. Again, his opportunity in Dallas was much different than what Robertson has seen in Toronto. The elder Robertson finished with 17 goals and 45 points in 51 games as a 21-year-old and has since become one of the more top-end talents in the NHL since.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Holl Getting the Jake Gardiner Treatment

Again, the comparison shouldn’t act as a shadow over the Maple Leafs’ Robertson. Rather a reminder that it takes time and opportunity to develop some of these young prospects and sometimes it takes longer to do so.

The skill is there, we saw what he could do in junior and while the NHL is a far cry from playing in the OHL, natural talent doesn’t just fizzle out. Still, health and consistency will be the determining factor. But it’s not time for the Maple Leafs to give up on Robertson. Doing so, would be a major mistake as he still has a lot to give at just 21.

After all, we all remember the revenge tour that former Maple Leafs seem to go on when playing Toronto and it’s fair to assume that Robertson would be no different if the Maple Leafs gave up on him now.