Fellow THW Maple Leafs writer Alex Hobson wrote a great piece on prospect Nick Robertson’s chances of cracking the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. This was a result of our talk with Inside the Maple Leafs reporter, David Alter on the Sticks in the 6ix podcast.
In his article, Hobson attributes Alter’s comments on Robertson’s bad habits and creating turnovers needing to be kicked in order to eye for that spot in the Maple Leafs top-six. That was going to be a deciding factor for Robertson if he was going to make the team as he had his moments– good and bad– at the rookie tournament.
Fast forward to today, the 21-year-old Robertson appears to be on a mission to not only join the roster, but to be the second line left winger as he was always a player that could potentially win that spot. After dealing with injuries during his development in the American Hockey League, he has shown this preseason that he’ll do everything to earn that spot and will continue to prove it. As of now, he looks to be running away with the job that he’s been eyeing for some time.
Producing Like a Top-Six Forward
When the rookie tournament in Traverse City ended and Robertson made his way to training camp with the Maple Leafs, it seemed as if there was a complete overhaul in his game. At the tournament, he made some mistakes but still displayed his powerful shot and offensive skillset in the tournament. Now, going up against tougher competition in the NHL, he doesn’t look out of place.
Robertson appears to have elevated his game to new heights. This is after having a 0.90 point per game average in 49 games with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL and a year removed from Hayley Wickenheiser’s comments of Robertson needing to “dial it back” and “relax”. Robertson appears more composed and relaxed, but is still playing his game that makes him a high-end prospect in the Maple Leafs system. While he still plays with that quick pace, he appears to have found that balance to slow the game down when he needs to and then go into high gear.
Robertson has been relentless with his overall and consistent play in the preseason. He’s been displaying his quick speed and agility, his powerful and accurate shot and reads to provide support and get open for shooting opportunities. Even with entries into the offensive zone, he does a great job to the read play, serving as a drop back option and jumps straight to the middle for a prime scoring chance. That ability to free up as much space for himself in order to get to the high danger area is going to help him be successful at the NHL level.
Offensively, Robertson has been at the forefront with his production as he has three goals and four assists in four preseason games. Even his analytics look great as he’s one of the best puck possession players on the Maple Leafs. When on the ice at five-on-five, the team has an unlocked shot attempt percentage (fenwick for) of 56.76 and a respectable expected goals for percentage of 53.89.
Fans will think that preseason production is meaningless, but for Robertson who’s looking to showcase his talents as a top-six forward, it’s definitely worth noting. While his production is standing out, it’s what he’s able to do with the opportunity that he’s given that continues to impress.
In a game where the Ottawa Senators played most of their top players, the Maple Leafs lineup consisted of depth and players battling for spots with Robertson being in the top-six. This was the perfect opportunity to see what he can do as he was extremely noticeable, scoring twice and adding an assist in a 6-3 win. He once again found himself in a similar position recently against the Montréal Canadiens and had a three-assist game in a 5-1 win playing alongside William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot. His game included a nice feed to Nylander for his second of the game.
Defense is an area of improvement in Robertson’s game as well, as he has been prone to turning the puck over and can do too much at times. Though, we’ve seen little of that during the preseason. He’s more confident with his decisions with the puck and has shown the ability to come back and help out on the back check to break up plays.
Robertson Earning High Praise
As a result of his high-end play in the preseason, Robertson is already starting to get comments and praise from the team. According to Jonas Siegel of The Athletic, head coach Sheldon Keefe previously said that this is the best he has played with the Maple Leafs.
Keefe continued his positive comments about Robertson with his postgame comments after their 5-1 win against the Canadiens.
“He’s doing things that he needs to do to show that he’s wanting a spot on the team and that he’s ready to play in the NHL,” Keefe said according to The Canadian Press. “So as he continues to stack these games up, of course, we’re paying attention to that.”
Even the reigning league MVP Auston Matthews has taken notice of Robertson’s overall play and finding his game. The back-to-back Rocket Richard winner is also impressed with his shot.
“I’m not sure there’s too much I can’t really teach him about how to shoot because, honestly, I think he probably shoots it harder than anybody on the team,” Matthews said according to Sportsnet’s Luke Fox.
When the coach and even Matthews are taking note of your shot and the way you’re playing the game, it’s definitely a great sign that you’re doing something right.
Robertson’s shot is obviously a sticking point with his game, but his ability to engage in battles and maintain a presence in the tough areas shows that he has no fear. He has great body positioning to get an inside edge to win those puck battles and even force turnovers. That work ethic combined with his offensive skillset is what is separating himself from other names that are also looking to make the team. That competition and drive is fuelling Robertson and we’re starting to see his very best.
Robertson Has Aced Audition
With limited roster spots up for grabs, one of them being a top-six position, we’re seeing some great competition among players in the Maple Leafs’ system.
While there are many players that have impressed to this point, Robertson should be at the top of everyone’s list as he has continued to exceed expectations with his consistent and persistent play in the preseason. There was an opportunity for him to play and excel in order to win a roster spot and he’s doing just that.
The more opportunities Robertson gets, the more he continues to thrive and prove that he’s capable of being a major contributing factor as a top forward for the Maple Leafs. Now that a job in the NHL is in his grasp, he’s doing everything he can to secure that spot and run away with a top-six role from here on out.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.