After an up-and-down start with the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past two seasons, partially due to injuries and partially due to not being mentally or physically ready, Nick Robertson seems to have “arrived.” While it’s only the preseason and as Maple Leafs’ fans we don’t want to read too much into it, the purpose of training camp for some players is to earn a roster spot. Robertson has done everything expected of him and more in an effort to do just that.
There is still one major hurdle Robertson has to overcome. He’s waiver-exempt. If he makes the roster, a more experienced player will have to be placed on waivers; and, given the Maple Leafs’ luck with waiver-wire players, that player is probably lost to another team.
Today we’ll explore three reasons the Maple Leafs should award Robertson a position on the team’s regular-season roster. We believe he should be in the lineup on October 12th when the team visits Montreal to take on the Canadiens in the season opener.
Reason #1: Robertson Has Been The Team’s Best Player
Of all of the players not guaranteed a spot on the roster; or, to put it another way, of all of the players needing to compete for a roster spot, Robertson has been their best player.
After a so-so prospects tournament and a slow start to camp, Robertson has gotten better each preseason game. If we look at each of the four games Robertson has played to date, in game one he was barely noticeable. He recorded a single shot and did not figure into the scoring in the only game the Maple Leafs have lost in the preseason. That was by a 4-2 score to the Ottawa Senators.
In game two, he sniped a goalscorer’s goal and recorded three shots on the net.
In game three, he registered three more shots. Two of those shots went in. He added an assist to give him three points in the game.
In game four he upped his shot total to five shots. More importantly, he showed playmaking skills and ended the game with his three assists.
Robertson leads all Maple Leafs’ players with seven points in four preseason games, potting three goals, and adding four assists.
Reason #2: The Maple Leafs Need to Promote Internal Competition
Every player not guaranteed a roster position comes into camp believing that, if he has a great preseason, he can earn one of those spots. Young players on their entry-level contracts who are waiver-exempt realize they’re at a disadvantage but they still hope and work toward the goal of making the roster.
Among them are players who have performed well in the minors and who come into camp with a realistic shot of making the team. Robertson definitely fits that bill, having scored 44 points in 49 games for the Marlies last season.
If the Maple Leafs want to dangle that carrot in front of the other young prospects on the Marlies, it would be good for them to show that a player who’s accomplished what Robertson has will be rewarded. It could slow Robertson’s development to be sent to the AHL after having a dominant camp. Perhaps most important, it would set a bad example for other young prospects on the Marlies.
Reason #3: Brother Rivalry and Competition
There are many hockey families in the history of the NHL and many brother combinations. In some cases, siblings are similar in abilities, and in some cases they’re not.
A close example of brothers who don’t appear to have similar abilities is William and Alexander Nylander. William Nylander is a 30-plus goal scorer and almost a point-a-game player. On the other hand, his younger brother Alexander is having a hard time cracking the NHL. He was recently placed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins and went unclaimed by any other team.
Nick and Jason Robertson Had Similar Junior and AHL Numbers
Despite different physical frames, brothers Jason and Nick Robertson share similarities in their past production in both juniors and the American Hockey League.
In 252 games in the OHL, Jason averaged 0.59 goals per game, 0.67 assists per game, and 1.26 points per game. In 162 games in the OHL, younger brother Nick averaged 0.60 goals per game, 0.49 assists per game, and 1.09 points per game.
These numbers would indicate that, while brother Jason was the better playmaker, averaging 0.20 assists and points per game, their goal-scoring ability was identical.
In the AHL, Nick actually outperformed Jason. In 49 games, he averaged 0.43 goals per game and 0.47 assists per game for a combined total of 0.90 points per game. In 60 games, Jason averaged 0.43 goals per game and 0.37 assists per game for a total of 0.80 points per game.
In the NHL, Jason has scored 58 goals and added 67 assists for a total of 125 points in 128 games. Nick has only scored a single goal and added one assist in 16 NHL games.
Jason Is Older and Bigger, But Younger Brother Nick Kept Up
As we noted, Jason Robertson has a massive size advantage over Nick Robertson. He is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds to brother Nick’s 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. In addition, because one brother has achieved success in the NHL doesn’t mean the other will. Players develop differently and top out at different stages in their careers. As well, there are differences in the systems in which a player lands.
Still, because the Robertson brother’s past accomplishments are similar, it makes sense that both might have the potential for successful NHL success. Nick should be encouraged by his brother’s accomplishments. It should give him added confidence that he too could be successful in the NHL.
Two Upcoming Preseason Games for Robertson
There are still two more games in the preseason for the Maple Leafs, a home-and-home series with the Detroit Red Wings. If Robertson keeps playing as he has to this point in training camp, we believe he will force general manager Kyle Dubas’ hand.
Right now, there seems like little choice but to reward Nick Robertson with the coveted Maple Leafs’ roster spot. Why would the team want to hold him back anyway?
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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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