Nick Robertson is in a good place right now with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s not playing every day, but he’s getting his chances. And, he’s producing. In eight games during the regular season, he’s averaging 11:41 minutes of ice time and has five points (two goals and three assists).
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In addition, when he’s on the ice he makes things happen. He plays bigger than he is. He gets in front of the opponent’s goalie and is dogged in digging out loose pucks. He’s fearless – perhaps a bit too much, but he’s also seemed to lose his waterbug mentality of chasing everything anywhere.
Robertson’s Had Improved His Game with the Marlies
To this point, Robertson has had a regular season free of injuries. As Maple Leafs’ fans know, that hasn’t always been the case. Early in the 2021-22 season, he suffered what almost was a season-ending injury. However, when he returned to the Toronto Marlies and put together a solid season. In his 28 AHL games, he was a point-a-game player with 16 goals and 12 assists.
It was a no-brainer that Robertson would get a serious look during training camp this season. And he did.
Prior to the training camp, Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore noted that Robertson had improved in many areas. As Moore’s report card read, Robertson had improved in (a) “his shot selection” and (b) his ability to get “into the right areas, possessing the puck or extending the possession to get those better looks, to get those higher quality chances.” (from “The Leafs are going to need help from within. Here are the candidates,” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 25/05/2022).
Still Maple Leafs’ Fans Saw No Place for Him on the Team
All that said and glowing reports aside, during the offseason many Maple Leafs’ fans believed there was no place on the team for the winger. He was small. He was injury prone. He should be traded while he had some trade value.
Robertson seemed to play into that critique early in the preseason. He had a so-so prospects tournament. Then he had a slow start to the team’s training camp.
But with the preseason games beginning, after a weak first game Robertson started to show well. In his first game he was barely noticeable and recorded one shot on net.
In game two, however, he scored a goal and recorded three shots on the net. In game three, he scored twice and added an assist. In game four he had five shots on the net and began to show confident playmaking skills. He ended that game by registering three assists.
Robertson led all Maple Leafs’ players with eight points in the preseason and came in tied for second place in the entire NHL preseason scoring three goals and five assists.
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What Maple Leafs fans got a taste of during the preseason was Robertson’s incredible shot. At the time, Auston Matthews (who won the Rocket Richard Trophy and might know) said that Robertson “probably shoots it harder than anybody on the team.”
Maple Leaf’s head coach Sheldon Keefe was also impressed. He noted that the preseason games were “the best I’ve seen Nick look in a Leafs’ jersey.”
Despite Great Play, Robertson Did Not Secure a Place on the Maple Leafs Roster
Robertson was not guaranteed a roster position before the season started. However, he came into training camp believing that, if he had a great preseason, he would earn one of those spots. He had to know that, as a young player on an entry-level contract who was waiver-exempt, he was at a disadvantage.
Robertson had to believe his good play would be rewarded. But, it was not. When the final roster decisions were made on October 10, Robertson headed to the AHL’s Marlies. Although he was a standout during training camp, he simply got caught in the numbers game.
Coach Keefe was honest with Robertson. Denis Malgin would have needed to clear waivers, but Robertson was waiver-exempt. That was the only difference. [By the way, Robertson moved to the AHL without sulking and put up a goal and an assist in his two games there.]
Matt Murray’s Injury Opened the Door for Robertson
On October 16, things changed for Robertson. Salary-cap constraints suddenly disappeared when Maple Leafs’ goalie Matt Murray suffered a groin injury and was placed on LTIR. On October 19, Robertson skated with John Tavares and William Nylander on the team’s second line and joined the second power-play unit. Ironically, he bumped Malgin off the second line.
Robertson’s season debut was the stuff of movies. Playing against his older brother Jason and the Dallas Stars, the Maple Leafs’ Robertson scored two goals, including the overtime game winner. He helped lead his team to a 3-2 win over the Stars.
Robertson put on a show. He played 14:24 minutes, including almost two minutes (1:45) on the power play. Benefiting from a Michael Bunting assist, Robertson put his team up 2-1 early in the third period by wiring a shot from the slot past Stars’ goalie Scott Wedgewood.
But his overtime goal was the clincher. He made a great defensive play when the Stars were bearing down on him two on one; then, turning the other way quickly, he wired home a great goal from the right face-off circle when Matthews got him the puck.
Where Robertson Stands Right Now on the Season
After the team’s disastrous western road trip, Robertson was a healthy scratch for the first two games of November. However, he replaced Wayne Simmonds in the lineup for last Sunday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. He posted an assist in that 3-1 win, on Tavares’ go-ahead third-period goal over the Hurricanes.
As it stands right now, the 21-year-old Robertson looks like he’s in the NHL to stay. He’s seemed to turn the corner this season on his play. Over the past two seasons, he only put up two points in 16 games. This season he looks like he belongs.
Robertson’s offence is now becoming a taken-for-granted aspect of his game. He needs time and experience to flesh out all the aspects of his game, but that will come.
Robertson Moves from Long Shot to Fan’s Appreciation
Prior to the season, Robertson began as a long shot in fans’ eyes to even make this team. However, while he might continue to be a healthy scratch every so often, Robertson has won a place on the team’s roster.
Robertson is scoring. He’s also making great plays. He’s doing the little things right. During this season, he’s helped win over Maple Leafs’ fans with his creativity, his hard puck pursuit, his on-ice vision, and even his defence (as shown in the Stars game).
He looked skilled, smart, and determined. Even coach Sheldon Keefe noted, “He’s just playing really good hockey right now.” Goalie Matt Murray, who looks to return to the lineup soon, agreed with Matthews about Robertson’s shot when he shared that “As a goalie, he’s got one of the hardest snapshots I’ve ever seen.”
Robertson Is Still Young, But …
Although it seems as if Robertson has been in the Maple Leafs’ plans forever, he’s just 21 years of age. If he can stay healthy, he’d have a chance to contribute to the Maple Leafs this season and beyond.
There’s no longer any argument about his skills or his determination. Now, he needs to stay healthy. Maple Leafs’ fans are beginning to believe he belongs.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf