The best second round pick gets a top five spot for the third time.
Nick Robertson! The prospect everyone loves, wants to see, and is the talk of the pre-season. Since he’s been drafted he’s played in the OHL, AHL, and NHL – even making his Maple Leafs debut in the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Everyone was eager for his debut with the Maple Leafs at the start of the 2021 season, looking forward to seeing Robertson up in the big leagues when he had nowhere else to go. It was great, until game six when he injured his knee.
Once healed, Robertson would spend the rest of the season with the Toronto Marlies, scoring five goals and adding 11 assists in 21 games. Since then the question has been whether he’ll be on the NHL roster this fall, or the top line of the Toronto Marlies.
Before we get into that I should mention that yes, Nick Robertson is eligible to play in the OHL as an over-age player but he won’t be going back. He’s available to play in the AHL this season and there’s no reason he should be back in junior. Even the opportunity to play for a contender in the OHL was available, playing top six minutes in the AHL will be much more beneficial to his development, even if the Marlies aren’t a top team in the league.
So that brings us to the Marlies vs Maple Leafs debate. If he were to play for the Maple Leafs he would be competing with many new wingers for ice-time, and it would be an especially hard completion in camp to get one of the two remaining coveted top six spots to play on either Auston Matthews or John Tavares’ wings. Mitch Marner and William Nylander already have two of those spots locked up.
The Maple Leafs shopping spree of wingers in free agency brought in Michael Bunting, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, David Kämpf, Josh Ho-Sang, not to mention returnees Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, Jason Spezza, and Wayne Simmonds to all compete with prospects for ice time on the big team.
However, the Marlies this year will be home to tweeners like Joey Anderson, Michael Amadio, and fellow rookies Pavel Gogolev and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.
The chances for quality 5 on 5 ice time are infinitely higher with the Marlies, as well as chances to work on the power play and penalty kill, because that’s exactly the kind of experimenting and training that the Marlies are for.
With development camp happening this week, and the Traverse City tournament coming up this weekend, we’ve been getting stories about Robertson at camp, and other Leafs sites focusing on him as the top prospect with the Leafs:
“Nick is special in the sense of his intensity and the willingness to want to be perfect and great in every aspect of his life,” says Hayley Wickenheiser, the club’s senior director of player development.
“Actually, for Nick, one of the secrets for him might be to dial it back at times a little bit and to just relax more into who he is as a person and as a player.
“I talk a lot with him about easy speed. Let the game come to you. Don’t force it. And really growing into who he is as a person [and] as a player is going to help him be more effective.”
Robertson was a popular top five pick, being placed there by almost everyone (you can tweet Omar at @TicTacTOmar to demand answers about why he’s #6)
Katya: I think expectations for Robertson were set a bit too high before last season. He was not good in the Bubble Playoffs. He was not going to get an NHL job out of camp because he is waiver exempt and the Leafs have no cap space. That’s all still true, so temper the expectation that this season he’ll just take a job when put up against an oversupplied forward corps. There are only 22 players in his draft class that even have one NHL game. Of those, only five were regular roster players last year, and maybe 10 or 12 will be this year.
I think all of us who watched the Marlies were a little disappointed in him, but don’t get the idea he’s terrible! He was, when healthy, the most obviously skilled player on the team. This is a year you expect to see someone taken in 2017 grabbing a spot in the NHL, not 2019.
Hardev: How many times do I have to tell hockey GMs not to rush and yo-yo a young, raw, talented prospect! Robertson is still a teenager and his game still needs the regular amount of refinement every other prospect needs. Marner needed time (though he did it in the NHL because he was a top-five pick), Nylander needed time, every prospect in history has needed time to get a reliable pro game together. It’s not that Robertson doesn’t have the skills or the athleticism to play in the NHL (we’ve seen him do it), but it’s about him being able to do it consistently. The muscle memory, the stamina, and the confidence after having roundhouse kicked a league like the AHL. Leave Nick Alone, Kyle and Sheldon. Leave Him Alone. Let him play the season with SDA, Anderson, Gogolev, Abramov, Holmberg, and all the other young, exciting players on the Marlies. Hands off. And to the fans, don’t even try putting Robertson in your roster predictions until he’s 21, trust me. Last thought, I hope Robertson doesn’t get the Liljegren treatment and get people feeling exhausted with him because he’s been on the Marlies three seasons and they wanted him in the NHL when he was 19. Cut the expectations, it’s not realistic.
We’ll leave you on that note, and ask you your opinion: