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For the second straight time, I am writing about an oft-injured prospect who used to have a lot of hype. Whether the injuries have impacted his development or not, Robertson like Timmins has also had problems establishing himself as an NHL impact player like many of us hoped.

Nicholas Robertson Vitals
Age as of July 1 21.8
Position W
Height 5'9"
Weight (lbs) 183
Shoots L
Draft Year 2019
Draft Number 53

As a result of both his struggles and his injuries, Robertson has only played in 31 NHL games in the past three seasons. In fact, he's only played in a total of 82 games at any level in that time. That makes ranking him tricky the same way it was with Timmins.

The Player

We all know all about NRob by now. He's a small bulldog of a player that has one gear and that's all out, all the time. He has a hell of a shot, and finished his OHL career in his D+1 season with more goals (55) than games played (46). That was good enough to get him a call up to join the Maple Leafs for their pandemic "playoff" run against Columbus, where he did score a goal but didn't play in every game.

Because of the pandemic, Robertson was able to play in the AHL for his D+2 season – since the OHL didn't play at all that season. And he's had one of the top point rates in the AHL for his age in the times he's played there. He was right up there with the likes of Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, Lukas Reichel and other young forwards in the AHL at that time. As a prospect, Robertson has simply proven himself to be a hard-working offensive force.

In the NHL, it's been a different story. He's had three different stints (not counting the "playoff" run) with Toronto of 6, 10 and 15 games, where he's looked invisible if not bad. He may have his little flashes here and there, but he's just never had a sustained period where he's looked anything like he did in junior or the AHL.

Robertson's problems, both in the NHL and in general, is that he hasn't shown he has enough skill and physical ability to have the same kind of impact as he has in junior and the AHL. Whether that's because he just hasn't been healthy enough to improve, or due to his own inherent limitations, that's just the facts of life for him now.

While Robertson has a bulldog mentality that has helped him succeed in spite of his size before, it doesn't work in the NHL. As much as he works hard on and off the ice, he is still at a disadvantage against most NHL defenders. More than one person, including those with the Leafs organization, have said he can play recklessly. That impacts how effective he is on the ice in the NHL, but I think it has also contributed to his injury troubles.

And while Robertson has a great shot and skills with the puck, he doesn't have the same kind of time and space to work with in the NHL. He gets blocked or cut off or pushed further and further out from the net, until he's shooting from way out. Even a great shot from distance will not fool NHL goalies most of the time. He just has yet to adjust or figure out how to make his game work effectively in the NHL on a consistent basis.

This season will be a big one for Robertson. He'll be 22 in September. It would be great to see him return fully healthy and stay healthy for one full season. Give him the time on the ice he needs to learn what he needs to learn and make the adjustments he needs to make – assuming he can make any. If you're a hopeful person, this would be want you think he needs to reach his ceiling and finally learn how to be an effective NHLer.

The Votes

I ranked Robertson 6th, in the same range as Niemelä, Grebyonkin, Timmins and a few others. I'm one of many doubters and worriers that he'll ever reach anything close to the potential we previously thought he had. But I do still like him and will root for him to finally just be healthy and I do think that if he does, he will get better. I'm just no longer sure that it would be enough.

Here's where the others ranked him:

Voter Vote
adam 5
Brian 6
Hardev 6
Cathy 3
Catch-67 3
Species 3
dhammm 5
Zone Entry 6
bballgordie 4
The Bag 4
Weighted Average 4.5
Max Vote 6
Min Vote 3

Here's what the other voters had to say:

dhammm: How much do injuries matter in prospect development? If you're Nick Robertson, they matter a lot, considering what an impediment they've been to the simple facts of touches and playing time. Last season he looked poised to break out with a strong camp before getting sent down due to fears of losing Denis Malgin on waivers. He soon got recalled and scored two goals in a match against his brother, then he sputtered around and failed to dictate the game or do anything for a few games, and then he suffered a season-ending injury. There's legitimate concern at this point that health issues are trampling Robertson's potential.

Now, the top 5 of this list also features Conor Timmins and Joseph Woll, two players who also struggled extensively with injury but broke out this past season in the eyes of fans. Whether Nick Robertson can follow them in posting a conversation-changing campaign remains to be seen. He is also still very young (not even 22 yet), and wherever he has played outside of the NHL, he’s looked solid on the level of scoring rates. Part of me has begun to doubt him a little as he ended yet another season on injured reserve, but more concerning is how he hasn’t really carried play; even this past season, after an inspiring training camp and first game, he didn’t look all there yet in his NHL shifts. That’s the kind of thing that can be helped with time, shifts, and touches, and if Robertson can stay healthy, he should get them.

Nick Robertson’s best case scenario is to break out anyway as a slight winger who doesn’t play that way, whose wits, shot, and tenacity enable him to make an impact on the scoresheet in the NHL. That potential is still there, but there are a lot of futures coming into view where he limps to 200 NHL games played before calling it quits.
Cathy: Somewhere along the line, not believing there is any there, there with Nick Robertson started to be considered picking on a puppy or something. There’s no there, there. I ranked him third on the slim hope that’s wrong, but I think this is my wrongest vote. He shoots from bad locations, and the only guy I’ve ever seen change that is Mikheyev. He’s fast, he can play something like brilliantly in the AHL, and I just… want to be wrong, I guess. I don’t think I really am, though. 
Catch-67: I want to believe in Nick Robertson largely because I really bit on his really fantastic OHL seasons after being drafted, and then his brother’s success made me bite even harder. He’s still relatively young, but we’ve been saying for a while that it’s put up or shut up time for NRob. And, well, it’s still put up or shut up time, but that window’s closing. This past season, I think I saw more glimmers of potential in his NHL play than in previous years, but not by a lot. Hopefully we see a big year from him in the NHL, but I’m having an increasingly hard time convincing myself that he’ll figure it out all of a sudden.
The Bag: We all keep waiting for the OHL and AHL success to translate to the NHL. I can’t see how or where he fits into the Leafs at the moment, and that’s not what you want to be saying about a player like this. They probably should have traded him a couple of years ago. I wish him the best and would love to see him start playing NHL hockey. It could still happen.
Hardev: I don't know. I'm believing in him less. Each of his past cups of coffee have given me less confidence that he's an NHLer, and I'm at a point where I'm going to stop waiting. He was brought in too early and had unfortunate injuries, and I feel bad for the kid for it. But thinking about what he can do on the Leafs roster, I can't say I think it's much.
Maybe on a bad team like Montreal he would get a chance and do something with it. A lesser, but similar, situation to Lafreniere. But when it comes to the Leafs, I don't see him making the team out of camp. The only path I can see is if he has another great camp and start to the Marlies season AND Domi does something heinous or just sucks his way out of the league.

As for Robertson himself, we'll see if his long summer of bulking up and working on his game yielded the directional awareness to go to the right places or use his teammates, because still in the NHL he wasn't doing that (this was also the talk with him in his draft year). He needs to make better decisions on the ice and stop making mistakes he got away with in junior or even the AHL. It's been a few years of this now and 22 isn't very far away.
Species: I still believe in Nick Robertson. More importantly, Nick Robertson still believes in Nick Robertson.

It's all there for him to grasp and he finally has another chance to do it. Second... third... fourth(?) chances are quite rare, but he has one now. He's done everything to overcome each obstacle thrown in front of him, or on which he threw himself.

Joking aside, there is obviously something there. He has incredible talent. It really is electric watching him play. If he debuts with the Marlies then do yourself a favour and go buy a ticket and watch him play in person. He's agile, fast, aware of what to do on the ice and simply electric, and hopefully with an NHL-experienced coach now running the Marlies he can take that final step to put it all together and turn that dial up hard, though not so hard that it breaks again.

That's what we all think, and now it's your turn! Do you still believe in Nick Robertson? Or are you writing him off as a too-small, too-injured, not-good-enough AHL star that just can't cut it in the NHL?

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