The Toronto Maple Leafs are involved in a number of different trade talks with other teams. Rumors are that the team is after a high-quality right-shot defenseman and that they’ll likely trade at least one quality forward for that return. After Kasperi Kapanen was traded, the usual suspects keep coming up – Andreas Johnsson and Alex Kerfoot.
In fact, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas did well trading Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins, getting a first-round draft pick in return. There’s also been some wondering by hockey commentators whether Dubas might trade that draft pick in a package to help fill the team’s obvious hole on the blue line.
However, the one trade chip that I haven’t heard mentioned is young Nick Robertson. And that’s the question I’ll ask in this post: “If the Maple Leafs decide to trade Robertson, what would his trade value be?”
Specifically, if the Maple Leafs packaged Robertson – say – with the first-round draft choice the team just picked up from the Penguins, could the team bring back that quality right-shot defenseman everyone knows is needed?
Nick Robertson’s Backstory
For fans who don’t know Robertson’s story, he was the Maple Leafs’ second-round pick (53rd overall) in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. At that time, few thought much of it. In fact, in many ways he seemed quite typical of the kind of hockey player Dubas regularly went after –skilled, smart, but undersized to that point of being ignored by other teams. There Robertson sat after the 52nd pick, and that’s when the Maple Leafs called his name.
Lightning struck. Robertson was indeed skilled; in fact, he was more skilled than anyone expected. He returned to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and proceeded to score 86 points in only 46 games during a shortened 2019-20 season.
The fact that these points included 55 goals set him apart from every other OHL player. He was the only OHL player to average more a goal per game. In fact, although the metaphor doesn’t work where ice is involved, I’ll use it anyway. Everyone else ate his dust. He was that good.
Oh, by the way, he was more than skilled and smart; he had character as well. In the aftermath of his tremendous season, he was also named the winner of the William Hanley Memorial Trophy as the CHL’s Sportsman of the Year. That’s heady stuff for a youngster and added to Robertson’s status.
The 18-year-old Robertson was so good, in fact, that the Maple Leafs invited him to be part of its postseason roster. Everyone thought it would be great experience for Robertson; he could be on the ice practicing with the team – playing with the regulars.
However, Robertson – as seems to be his way – had bigger plans. He played well enough that he became part of the team’s roster during the play-in round. He even scored his first NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In short, it was a very good season for Robertson.
So Here’s the Radical Question
Granted, what we know about Robertson is that he had an excellent 2019-20 season. We also know that there’s some eagerness to make him part of the roster on the big team next season. There’s a good chance he’ll make the team, I’m guessing. And, the Maple Leafs organization is likely excited by that prospect.
However, all this potential can’t be lost on other NHL teams. They must also be aware Robertson exists and has great potential. Everyone knows he can dominate the CHL, and everyone has to agree that his NHL stock is bullish. He’s clearly the Maple Leafs’ top organizational prospect. Plus, he’s a character guy.
When I say everyone likely knows it, I’m assuming that includes rebuilding teams that need and would be willing to trade for a potential star.
That fact makes me wonder about what trade value Robertson might have if Dubas considered moving him. As I noted, I’m wondering specifically what a rebuilding team – let me thrown out the Anaheim Ducks as an example – might trade for Robertson. Specifically, the Ducks have a 28-year-old defenseman named Josh Manson that the Maple Leafs need – now.
Might Manson (and perhaps another piece) be available for Robertson and (perhaps) the first-round draft pick Dubas just picked up in the Kapanen trade?
Robertson’s meteoric rise in status this season might make him a potentially valuable trade chip. Because hockey’s a pragmatic business, teams like the Maple Leafs simply can’t always be trading for the future. There’s the now to consider.
I believe Dubas will give his new head coach Sheldon Keefe a full-season’s run with the core of quality players that are under contract – John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Frederik Andersen. What if the team got the help it needed on defense, how would it stack up against everyone else in the NHL?
Would Dubas sacrifice a wonderful young – but future – star like Robertson in order to bet the house on a Maple Leafs Stanley Cup run for 2020-21? That to me is an interesting question.
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