Since the NHL season shut down on March 12, one of the things that Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been looking forward to is seeing young prospect Nick Robertson join the team during the postseason. Most hockey fans and commentators believe the goal is to show Robertson what being with the big team is like, but there would be no way he’d suit up to play during the postseason.
I don’t agree with that assessment. In this post, I want to explore why I believe the Maple Leafs should take a gamble and play the youngster.
Robertson just came off an incredible season with the CHL’s Peterborough Petes where he scored 55 goals and 31 assists in 46 games. Then, not long after the season was completed, Robertson was named the CHL’s Sportsman of the Year and his team’s MVP. As a result of this great season, the 18-year-old was invited by the Maple Leafs to be part of its postseason roster.
That leaves us knowing a lot of things about Robertson but not knowing how the young player’s play and character translate into the higher level of the NHL. And, I believe it’s worth a gamble to find out.
It’s Worth Finding Out How Good Robertson Might Be
The only way the Maple Leafs can find out if Robertson is NHL-ready is to play him against the best NHL players. Funny, there’s a chance to do just that if the 2019-20 NHL season progresses. For this reason, I’d do it.
I realize my idea goes against the prevailing wisdom that suggests he’s only along for the ride and he’s here to gain a headstart into next season. In truth, there’s more risking on this for Robertson because he can’t play with the Toronto Marlies next season – he’s too young. But he can play with the Maple Leafs if he’s good enough.
There’s a Risk, But the Stakes Are High
If Robertson is good enough to take a roster spot next season with the Maple Leafs, he immediately solves a number of the organization’s problems. And, if I were general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe, I’d be willing to take a risk to find out just what we have. And, the sooner the better.
When you listen to Dubas talk about Robertson, you sense that he might be setting up that possibility. Dubas, during the conference call where he announced Robertson would be a Black Ace who’s joining the postseason roster, pointed out that Robertson had one of the best scoring seasons in OHL history. He also noted how Robertson scored by pressuring up ice on the defensive side, by stealing the puck and scoring short-handed, or by penalty-killing. In fact, Robertson’s 50th goal was short-handed.
Dubas discussed Robertson’s drive, his excellent fitness levels, and his commitment. As Dubas said: “Nick is a person who’s as committed as any that I’ve seen certainly at that age, and … combined with his talent and ability, makes me believe that he’ll give a good run for not only just to be here but to potentially be on the roster.”
Where Might Robertson Fit in the Maple Leafs Line-Up?
Dubas believes Robertson is special. If he is, would he be a good line partner for Auston Matthews? I believe how the Edmonton Oilers use Kailer Yamamoto (who, at 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds, is even smaller than Robertson’s 5-foot-9 and 164-pound frame) with Leon Draisaitl shows how Robertson might be used with Matthews.
If Robertson’s good enough to play in the top six, he’s valuable to the team both because he’s a good player and because he’s inexpensive. Thus, he benefits the team in two ways.
Here are the line combinations I see if Robertson proves to be good enough.
Robertson (left-wing) – Matthews (center) – Nylander (right-wing)
Zach Hyman (left-wing) – John Tavares (center) – Mitch Marner (right-wing)
Pierre Engvall (left-wing) – Alexander Kerfoot (center) – Ilya Mikheyev (right-wing)
Kyle Clifford (left-wing) – Frederik Gauthier (center) – Jason Spezza (right-wing)
So, where’s Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson? They’ve been traded for a top-four defenseman. Although I like Kapanen, he has the most value as a trade-chip because on many other teams he’d be the star. If packaged with Johnsson, the trade would send and receive immediate star quality. The $6.6 million salary-cap from Kapanen’s and Johnsson’s contracts would allow a good defenseman to return.
The Opportunities That Exist if Robertson Plays Are High
The only way to know if Robertson is good enough is to see how he plays under NHL pressure. Given these possibilities, would I play him if I were Dubas and Keefe? Yes.
The gamble is minor and the rewards are high. When you have so much potential, you just have to see. That an organization would make Robertson rise through the ranks is old-school thinking, and Dubas and Keefe are not old-school at all.
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