Toronto Maple Leafs prospects were in town this past week to take part in the team’s yearly development camp. There were a lot of familiar faces and quite a few new ones as they’re getting a chance to catch the attention of Maple Leafs management.
While there were players who stood out, all eyes were on the Maple Leafs 2019 second-round pick, Nick Robertson. Being the top prospect in the system, you would expect him to be at the top of his game. We’ve seen quite a bit of highlights during his time in the Ontario Hockey League and strong play with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. Once again, he didn’t disappoint one bit.
At the camp, it was as if we saw a whole new Robertson during the drills and scrimmages. He surpassed expectations with his play, skillset and creativity that left many fans picking their jaws off the floor.
Robertson looks more determined and motivated than ever after a rough 2020-21 season where he dealt with an injury and spent most of his time in the minors. As he battles for a roster spot, from what we witnessed, Robertson wants to start the season with the Maple Leafs and stay with them.
Earning High Praise from Wickenheiser
It was apparent from the beginning of development camp, senior director of player development Hayley Wickenheiser lauded his intensity, as well as his high-end skillset. This has always been the main sticking point to Robertson’s game. With no OHL season, he did play very well in the AHL as he registered 16 points in 21 games with the Marlies, a 0.76 points per game rate. Even though he’s 5-foot-9, he plays a bigger game than what his height suggests, bringing passion every time he’s on the ice.
Robertson has attended the development camp on multiple occasions to further his development in hopes of solidifying an NHL roster spot. Wickenheiser made it very clear that a player like Robertson has to find that balance of continuing to develop and lead by example.
“Our message to [guys like Robertson] is that you’re not here to just participate and develop,” Wickenheiser said according to TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “You’re here to step up and lead and show why you belong at the next level and work on your leadership skills.”
Considering he’s been here previously, Robertson is now at the point where he does need to take the next step in his career. Even though his potential is still high, he needs to show that he’s capable of playing and excelling with his play on the ice.
Based on his performance and his play, it was a message that was well received for the energetic goal scorer. It was clearly evident that he was the most dominant player on the ice, even developing fantastic chemistry with Alex Steeves who the Maple Leafs signed out of college.
Robertson’s confidence and training has really come through to be a real difference maker. Wickenheiser noted his puck distribution and consistency as the main reasons for his success during camp. As we head into the rookie tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, Robertson will look to be a dominant factor once again.
Robertson Bringing the Flare At Camp
While he was executing the drills perfectly, when it got to game time, there were no signs of slowing down for Robertson. From the very first game, his speed, finesse and quick hands were on full display.
And let’s not forget about his lethal and accurate shot. In this clip, Robertson was in an open spot on the ice. He was down low in the faceoff circle and a good distance away from the net, where it’s a very difficult spot for score from. It was no issue for him as he was able to use his quick release to get a shot off and eventually found the back of the net.
The following clips encompass all of Robertson’s skillset that makes him extremely dangerous when he’s on the ice.
In the first highlight, Robertson uses his speed to make a strong zone entry while maintaining puck possession. He’s then able to draw in four opponents and then make a quick pass to Mikhail Abramov. As Robertson glides in to attack the net, he’s able to cut his way inside in order to gain better body position over Filip Kral. There’s just enough space for him to receive Abramov’s pass for a quick tap in for his hat trick goal.
Robertson was able to catch Kral off guard, despite having the size advantage. Robertson always has the ability to outmuscle his competition to get the inside edge and separate himself from defenders.
This next clip shows his high-end awareness to jump into the play and quick transitional game. While the other two goals, were memorable, this one stands out above the rest.
While the play is about to leave the defensive zone, Robertson’s vision allows him to jump right in and pick the puck off his opponent. He already generated a great amount of speed to catch everyone off guard and quickly transitioned to create a scoring opportunity. Four Team White players weren’t expecting things to break down so quickly, but when Robertson is on the ice, you always have to be on your toes because he anticipates plays at a quick pace. He then makes a slick move around the defender and proceeds to make a hard drive to the net. As soon as he gets in tight with the goaltender, he makes a quick move to get him out of position then pots the puck into the empty net.
With these three goals, it’s easy to see why Robertson continues to turn heads. While some will say that it’s just a development camp, when you’re the top prospect, expectations are going to be high for you to be at your very best. It would be a concern if he weren’t pulling moves like these daily during the camp. It’s safe to say that Robertson answered the call by taking his game to another level and showing that he does have the potential to be successful in the NHL.
Where Does Robertson Go From Here?
We’ve heard Wickenheiser’s assessment of him. We’ve heard Robertson say how motivated he is. After dominating camp, Robertson has an opportunity to replicate that success at the rookie tournament. If he does, his confidence will be through the roof, as he’ll look to solidify a roster spot on the wing.
There’s the possibility that Robertson may start the season with the Marlies. There’s no sense in trying to rush your top prospect, as has a chance to be a leader on that team and continue to develop. The end goal is for him to make the Maple Leafs. There’s an opportunity for him to take a spot and run with it. He’s more driven this time around than ever before and it shows.
Hockey has been a big part of my life since watching my first Leafs game to currently coaching minor hockey. I previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. Aside from hockey, I also enjoy drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.