Entering the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs were without a first-round pick for the first time since 2010. Their pick was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, along with prospect Carl Grundstrom and the rights to unsigned prospect Sean Durzi, for defenseman Jake Muzzin. What the Maple Leafs were left with, was their first pick falling to 53rd overall.
With that first choice of the draft, the general manager Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs selected Nicholas Robertson of the Peterborough Petes. If you haven’t been following his season so far, you’ve been missing out. He had a great season in 2018-19, leaving many (including myself) thinking that he’d go higher in the draft – even in the late first-round. But, he fell into the laps of the Maple Leafs and is looking like one of the biggest 2019 NHL Draft steals just five months after being selected.
Getting to Know Nick Robertson
Born in Arcadia, California, Robertson was drafted 16th overall in the 2017 OHL Entry Draft by the Petes. In his rookie season (2017-18), the forward scored 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points in 62 games. He followed that up with a 27-goal, 28-assist draft-year performance for 55 points in 54 games. Just before the 2018-19 OHL kicked off, he also participated in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, putting up four goals and five points through five games.
Robertson is one of the youngest players from the 2019 draft class, with his birthday coming just days before the Sept. 15 cut off – Sept. 11, 2001. He’s on the smaller side too, at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, yet he remained a highly-regarded prospect leading up to the draft.
Robertson is a very strong skater and is extremely creative with the puck. Many will question his ability to transition to the NHL based on his size, but if you look at today’s NHL, smaller players have the ability to excel (Maple Leafs fans might be familiar with Mitch Marner’s work). He’s a threat no matter where he is on the ice, largely due to his high-end vision. Robertson will continue to get better, which should be terrifying for all of the teams that passed on him (Hint: it’s all of them).
Just before the 2019-20 season kicked off, the Maple Leafs announced that they signed their top pick to a three-year, entry-level deal. They have high hopes for this young player.
In most rankings ahead of his NHL draft, Robertson was a high second-round pick. Selecting him 53rd-overall seems like a steal right off the bat – and his play this season has proved that.
Robertson’s 2019-20 Season So Far
At the time of writing, Robertson has 19 goals, nine assists and 28 points in just 17 games. That’s 1.65 points per game and a ridiculous 1.12 goals per game. He’s tied for the lead in the OHL in goals scored with Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles Kings 2019 second-round pick, 33rd overall – another absolute steal), he’s second in the entire CHL (Behind Cédric Paré from the QMJHL and, of course, tied with Kaliyev).
Even more impressive, is that 23 of his 28 points are primary points. This means he’s either scored or been the pass directly leading to a goal. Through his first 17 games, 63.64% of his points are primary points and he’s playing with a 4.17 primary points per 60 minutes (as of Nov. 4). That’s very good, and seventh among all players drafted in 2019.
Robertson is running the offense for the Petes and Maple Leafs fans should be extremely happy about that. What should make them even happier is that he isn’t doing it alone. He has had help from fellow Maple Leafs’ prospect Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (SDA). SDA has three goals, 23 assists and 26 points playing on a line with Robertson. The chemistry these two are building is off the charts.
The Petes have scored 78 goals this season. That means that Robertson has contributed to 35.9% of the team’s goals. and has actually scored 24.4% of those goals. Scoring a quarter of the team’s goals and contributing to over a third? It’s very good.
He shows no signs of slowing down so far, much to the excitement of Maple Leafs fans and management. The team may not have had a first-round pick in 2019, but it sure looks like they got a first-round talent in Robertson.
When Will Robertson Hit the NHL?
Robertson has been getting better and better every season. Below you can find his PNHLe over the past three seasons. PNHLe is a value that projects a prospect’s point potential in the NHL, taking into consideration point production, the league a prospect plays in, their age and the position they play.
Based on his PNHLe, the Maple Leafs have a potential star in Robertson. Looking at how he’s progressed, it seems reasonable to assume that this trend will continue. So when will he make the jump to the NHL?
It won’t be this season – or will it?. Depending on how the Petes season goes, maybe he gets a brief call-up at the end of the season, but I think that’s unlikely. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a serious look in the 2020-21 season. If he continues his current success all season and into next season’s training camp, it’s going to be very hard for the Maple Leafs to send him away.
In the 2020-21 season, I think he gets at least a look. By 2021-22, expect him to be a full-time player. Until then, Maple Leafs fans, enjoy the play of Robertson in the OHL and expect to watch him with a big role for Team USA at the 2020 World Junior Championships.