Entering the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a first-round pick as a result of the Jake Muzzin deal with the Los Angeles Kings. There was speculation about what general manager Kyle Dubas would do, knowing he wouldn’t be picking until the mid-second round.
Fortunately, the Maple Leafs selected Peterborough Petes forward Nick Robertson 53rd overall. There are many positives with him, especially his skill set. He had a season to remember and Maple Leafs fans should be excited about when he makes his NHL debut.
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Even Maple Leaf YouTuber Steve “Dangle” Glynn mistakenly called Robertson a defender and it became a meme and then a T-shirt that read, “Nick Robertson is a forward,” (from: “‘I do have a chip on my shoulder’: Leafs prospect Nick Robertson’s journey has him on cusp of world juniors”- The Athletic – 12/23/19).
Well, Robertson is a forward… a really, REALLY good forward.
A Diamond in the Rough
In June 2019, just before the draft, I wrote about the Maple Leafs’ draft day approach. Dubas had options that included keeping the pick to find a player that many would pass up on. Here’s an excerpt with a quote from the head of North American Central Scouting, Mark Seidel:
“Even though it’s not in the first round, the Leafs could gain what other teams miss by looking at players who fall in the draft. They may see the potential that other teams do not. Their loss could be the Maple Leafs’ gain as it has worked in the past.”
“I fully expect the Leafs to get a player much higher than 53rd on their list,” Seidel said. “Traditionally, there will be some surprising picks late in the first that will cause good players to drop into the second and that is where the Leafs may strike.”
Every team ahead of the Maple Leafs had a chance to select Robertson. He was a first-round talent. Though many scouts thought he would be a late first-round pick or an early second pick, no one expected him to be selected so late. The Maple Leafs’ choice was the steal of the draft.
After 55 points in his draft year, Robertson was on a mission. Some prospects take time to develop, others improve at an incredible rate. Robertson is the latter. He showcased his skillset at the World Junior Summer Showcase and the NHL Rookie Tournament. Once the season hit, the Petes’ offensive dynamo didn’t look back, recording goals in his first eight games of the season.
A Remarkable Season
With the Ontario Hockey League season formally concluded due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Robertson was on pace to hit the 60-goal mark, but 55 goals in 46 games is still an impressive feat.
Despite missing a month with a broken finger and a few more weeks because of the World Junior Hockey Championship (where he had more points than Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield), Robertson didn’t miss a beat. He stormed back to the top of the leader board in the OHL in goals scored and landed in the top 10 in scoring with 86 points.
According to QuantHockey.com, Robertson ranks seventh in goals-per-game in a single OHL season. His 1.196 goals-per-game ranks behind Tony Tanti (sixth, 1.209) and Eric Lindros (fourth, 1.246) and he has a better stat line than John Tavares (1.075 and 1.036), Patrick Kane (1.069) and Alex DeBrincat (1.032). He also has the highest goals-per-game by an 18-year-old in the OHL.
Robertson was a force at even strength (EV), averaging almost a primary point per game (.913) and 73.44 of his primary points were goals. His 34 goals at EV (currently ranked third) compared to his 13 on the power play shows his ability to provide strong offensive production at five-on-five. At both EV and on the power play, he managed a 1.39 primary points per game rate behind other top prospects like Yegor Sokolov, Alexander Khovanov and Connor McMichael, as well as draft-eligible players like Marco Rossi, Quinton Byfield and Alexis Lafreniere.
Robertson always manages to get to the high-danger areas and the middle of the ice at even strength where he tends to do the most damage. On the power play, he tends toward his off-wing ready for a one-timer. His shot and accuracy are what make him so dangerous offensively.
What You See Is What You Get
Dubas and the Maple Leafs gambled on Robertson with their pick, and the selection is making other teams think twice about not selecting him. This is most likely due to his size at 5-foot-9. Either way, the Maple Leafs and their fans should be excited. This season was worth seeing to believe.
Robertson isn’t just a one-dimensional player. His speed, tenacity and relentless pursuit of the puck are a great combination and what the Maple Leafs want in a player. He’s not just a threat on the power play or even strength, but on the penalty kill as this goal shows:
Robertson is a well-rounded player who can make an impact in all situations. If you’ve followed him this season, from the Rookie Tournament to scoring his 55th goal, what you’ve seen is what you’ll get from him.
With a deep pool of talented wingers in the American Hockey League, Robertson could challenge for a spot on the Maple Leafs next season and bypass some of the names ahead of him. The safe bet would be to send him back to juniors for another year, as he’ll turn 19 before the start of next season. It’s not crazy to assume he will make the pros, either at the NHL or AHL level, with his work ethic and ability to compete each game.
The Maple Leafs took advantage of every other teams’ mistakes and selected Robertson. It’s now paying off.