Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Nylander, Aube-Kubel & Robertson

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the team’s right wingers and how they stack up against right wingers on other NHL teams. The spoiler is that they stack up very well, indeed. Second, I’ll consider what Nick Robertson might need to have a good season at the NHL level.

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Finally,  I’ll do a quick World Junior report on the three Maple Leafs’ prospects playing in the tournament.

Item One: Do the Maple Leafs Have the NHL’s Best Right Wingers?

TSN’s Travis Yost recently did a ranking of NHL forwards; and, not surprisingly, he ranked the Maple Leafs as one of the three best NHL teams in terms of right-wing depth. He had recently also done a ranking of NHL teams at the left-wing position and had the Maple Leafs listed in “Tier 2.” Those are excellent rankings, but not much of a surprise for those who follow the team.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other teams Yost ranked as best in the NHL for right-wingers were the Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators. Although he saw both these teams as having elite depth at the right-wing position, he believed the combination of Mitch Marner and William Nylander was probably the top tandem of right-wingers any team had in the entire NHL.

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As a scorer, Marner potted 35 goals and added 62 assists (for 97 points) in only 72 games last season. Nylander also had a career season and was almost a point-a-game player with 34 goals and 46 assists (for 80 points) in 81 games. They are probably the best one/two punch in the NHL.

The two newcomers to the Maple Leafs lineup also were considered in the ranking and graded out well using TSN’s analytics. Both Calle Jarnkrok and Nicolas Aube-Kubel added to the team’s right-wing depth. 

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Nicolas Aubé-Kubel to 1-Year Deal

Although Jarnkrok wasn’t brought to the team for his scoring but his defense, he did score 12 goals and added 18 assists (for 30 points) in 66 games last season. Despite what many Maple Leafs’ fans believe about the downside of his new contract and term, he’s really good without the puck and can also add secondary scoring.

The newcomer I’m most anxious to watch play is Aube-Kubel. He scored 11 goals and added 12 assists (for 23 points) in 74 games. But his physicality interests me. He’s a hitter, who totalled 140 hits over the season playing only about ten minutes a game.

Item Two: Can Nick Robertson Find Success with the Maple Leafs?

Nick Robertson’s a unique player, and I’ve been hoping to see him get a chance to play more at the NHL level. Really, what more can he learn in the AHL? If he’s moved down to the Toronto Marlies, it will be because the Maple Leafs need to play salary-cap magic.

Nicholas Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs Draft
Nicholas Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019 NHL Draft
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That said, it will take some coaching consideration about where Robertson might be successful. He’s not a player coaches can just throw over the boards and he’ll be successful. The two questions are: (1) What does he need to make it at the NHL level? and (2) How can the Maple Leafs best provide it?

Until Aube-Kubel came along, I had pegged Robertson as a top-six forward who needed to play on one of the team’s top lines to flourish. However, now I wonder if Aube-Kubel can help Robertson by offering him a chance to play fewer minutes as he adapts to the NHL level. I can see a play/coach scenario where the game within the game is Robertson playing a shift and then being instructed by someone like Jason Spezza during the game.

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Robertson is right now a one-dimensional offensive player. I can’t yet see him being defensively reliable. But I can see him growing into the role. You certainly can’t fault his desire and his willingness to earn his way onto the team. 

Robertson is the young guy who stayed alone in Toronto during COVID and didn’t see his parents for long stretches – just so he could work out at the Maple Leafs’ facilities. The kid WANTS to play. 

If he’s to be successful, Robertson needs two things. First, he needs a center who’ll keep passing him the puck. Second, he needs a bodyguard. He needs someone to ride shotgun as protection. If he’s allowed to be beaten on, he’ll likely fall victim to his small stature. 

The question is, could he prosper on the team’s fourth line? Could Adam Gaudette become the center who passes him the puck? Could Aube-Kubel become his protector? 

Just a thought.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Three Maple Leafs’ prospects are playing in the World Junior Tournament in Edmonton. Two play with Team Finland (forward Roni Hirvonen and defenseman Topi Niemela) and one plays with Team USA (forward Matthew Knies). 

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Maple Leafs’ fans probably expected Knies to get lots of points. He’s the most hyped of the three. Yet, Knies has not been the top scorer among Toronto’s prospects at this tournament. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an impact. Just this morning before writing the post I watched some video of him hitting Team Sweden opponents. He’s both vicious and fearless.

Instead, Hirvonen has stood out offensively. He now has six points in three games. Niemela has two assists. The tournament proceeds as Team Finland plays Team Canada later today.