The Maple Leafs have recalled forward Nick Robertson from the Toronto Marlies (AHL)— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) February 25, 2022
Nick Robertson last played for the Maple Leafs in late April of last year. He moved to the AHL and played out the season there (there were no AHL playoffs in Canada last year), and then he got ready for this season.
He began again in the AHL with only two games for the Marlies in October before a series of injuries, Covid absences and rehabilitation filled his days. He’s been back in the AHL and playing since early February, and has appeared in seven games where he has scored three goals and notched three assists. His total points on the AHL season are eight in nine games.
At the moment. the Leafs are flush with LTIR space to recall players — they added Kyle Clifford before the last game as well — and Ilya Mikheyev left the game on Thursday night with a non-Covid illness.
The Leafs play again Saturday, and they now have two forwards to cover a Mikheyev absence if necessary.
The playoff round in the season before last vs the Columbus Blue Jackets became a Clifford vs Robertson choice. It seems we’re right back where we were then.
During yesterday's media avail, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas had high praise for top prospect Nick Robertson, who recently returned from injury with the AHL Marlies— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 21, 2022
"It is the best I have seen him play at this level not only on the puck but off of it ... His skating looks a lot better" https://t.co/teHVzHBTTZ
What’s changed for the Leafs is that they have room to make moves ahead of the trade deadline. They are not sure yet how long Jake Muzzin will be out, and assuming it will be the full remainder of the regular season seems plausible, but not guaranteed.
At the same time, they have room to remove players, particularly on defence to open up some cap space to add. The Leafs have been linked to many forwards lately, but in the latest 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman says he thinks they are still prioritizing a defenceman.
While I do think JT Miller is perfect for them — and they have talked to Vancouver — I don’t think the Maple Leafs feel that is their number one priority. They aren’t finished trying to tinker with their blue line, and, at the very least, must be considering goaltending options. They had conversations with Dallas about John Klingberg, and may revisit after adding some edge they desired in Ilya Lyubushkin. By my math, they could have $7M in cap room, although a pre-playoff return for Muzzin complicates that.
Friedman then goes on to consider what the Leafs will give up:
Toronto’s made it clear they desire to hold Matthew Knies and Topi Niemela — especially for rentals or shorter-term options. Nick Robertson for a rental seems unlikely. I suspect that, after the Olympics, Nick Abruzzese moved towards this group, as well. They don’t have a ton of draft picks, but feel very good about their prospects.
I think we should separate the first two names, which is harder fact, from the parts about Robertson and Abruzzese. In an ideal world, Toronto doesn’t want to give up any prospect. But that no-trade list leaves them paying their way with Roni Hirvonen. I’m not sure that’s going to get them much.
The other thing to consider is if Kyle Dubas is really shopping for a rental at all. He doesn’t do that much, and his last trip to the hockey rent-all store had a very poor outcome.
No matter what the full set of reasons to recall Robertson. The Maple Leafs have it in their best interests to take a good hard look at his NHL play, and decide what he can truly bring to the team. One way or another.