Who could’ve predicted the season Nick Robertson had. After a mediocre 27 goals in 54 games for the Peterborough Petes in his draft year, Robertson dominated the OHL en route to 55 goals in 46 games, the most in the league that season. He made the first OHL All-Star Team, he won the OHL Most Sportsmanlike Player award, and he was the CHL Sportsman of the Year. And he did all of this in his age-18 season.
As one of the youngest players in his draft year, just four days removed from being in the 2020 Draft instead of 2019, Robertson’s stock has skyrocketed to the moon. If he was those four days younger, there’s a pretty good chance Robertson goes in the top-10 in this year’s draft. He was a fair bit off Marco Rossi — expected to be top-five draft pick this year — in points, but that’s because he had 86 assists and Robertson only had 31. His lack of assists shouldn’t detract from his elite value as a scorer.
In Scott Wheeler’s ranking of the best drafted prospects outside the NHL, Robertson ranked 10th.
“A little under a year ago in Traverse City, Robertson told me he felt like he passed too much during his draft year, that he was too deferential to his older linemates, and that he was going to use the 2019-2020 season to shoot more. Then he scored 55 goals in 46 games, became the most dangerous goal scorer in junior hockey, and leaned into his strengths more than ever before — and the hockey world took notice.” - Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
So I guess you can say Kyle Dubas found some pretty good value out of a second round pick!
After finding himself in 11th place last summer, Robertson has moved up into the top five and ahead of the second tier of NHL players like Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott. The votes were close between Robertson and the player who will be announced on Tuesday; you can probably guess who that is.
Votes - Nicholas Robertson
|Spread in Rank||2|
The masthead is overall very excited to watch Robertson tear it up on the Leafs one day (possibly at the start of next month?), Species even thought of boldly dropping him into the top-three.
Fulemin: He’s cool and excellent, and in a redraft he’s already going first round. Great pick. If he comes in and swipes an NHL job next year, the hype train is really gonna pick up steam, and you know what? It should.
Species: I wanted to rank him at three. At first I did. I put him third and bumped down one of Nylander or Marner to fourth (you’ll find out which one soon,) but I couldn’t go through with that. I tried to justify it. I watched all the Robertson highlights, but, ultimately, that was all still the OHL, and Willy and Mitchy are in the NHL and both doing amazingly well there. About six minutes before Katya shut down the voting I flipped him back to fourth. I apologise to all those who wanted a wacky and non-conformist take in the top-five. Of course, I will seriously regret this decision when if he scores the Cup clinching goal in Game 7 OT of the Stanley Cup Final.
Katya: Okay, first, recognize the will he or won’t he play in the playoffs routine is a hype-train. The OHL is not the NHL and very few players can make that jump directly. It’s extraordinarily rare for players not drafted in the top 15. That don’t mean he ain’t a player though.
Brigstew: lol Kyle Dubas found a first-round worthy pick in the second round. What a gem, he and Robertson both.
Nick Robertson is a clever, sneaky, bold player. He’s got lightning-quick hands and can play hockey at a very high tempo. Robertson is incredibly creative and he knows how to use that to maintain possession and create good scoring opportunities for his team. With the way hockey’s been trending for years now, those two focal points are exactly what you want to see in a prospect.
I’m just going to show some highlights because they honestly speak for themselves.
Just the deftness of his pass here, and he does it blind.
He even had some fun with Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.
Is it just me or is Robertson being played on fast forward and everyone else on regular playback?
Nick Robertson, everyone pic.twitter.com/hYjU9QQcHf— 51Leafs (@51Leafs) July 28, 2019
He’s so good that bad teams goon on him for making them look bad.
Nick Robertson gets a pass from SDA and finishes his hat-trick shorthanded. Then, everyone starts throwing hands. Leafs fans gonna love every second of this. pic.twitter.com/BRTT9sAyA4— Stan Temming (@stantemming) October 27, 2019
And he even did the Matthews thing before Matthews.
Leafs select Nick Robertson.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 22, 2019
Love this pick. Highly-skilled winger who was one of the best players on the ice at the top prospects game. First round talent. Nice assist here: pic.twitter.com/ejys8z8kLG
This part of his game is what makes Robertson so special. It’s why he scored 55 goals in 46 games this year. Not only is Robertson’s shot beautiful, but it’s quick and hard. And it’s diverse! His bread and butter is a curl and drag snapper that he can get an incredible amount of power on, but he also has a beautiful slap shot and a bullet of a wrister.
“[His shot] exists in two major forms: A curl-and-drag release that is heavy (one of those shots you really hear when it knocks into a goalie or off the boards) and incredibly accurate, and a one-timer that he’s capable of pounding through traffic and cleanly past goalies. (I think the strength of his curl and drag actually makes him a better fit for the slot on an NHL power play than the point.) - Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
Watching these highlights and the variety of goals Robertson is able to score and the dynamic power he’s able to pull them off with, I can’t help but see Auston Matthews in the corner of my eye. Just look at his slapper and his curl and drag — they both look just like Matthews’ shot (Omar did a great back-to-back comparison of this). Robertson’s just doing this all at the junior level, not in the NHL. Yet.
Off the rush.
Meanwhile, Nick Robertson has scored his 47th goal in 41 games.... pic.twitter.com/OIydGN6q6u— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) February 21, 2020
A snapper in the defender’s face.
Canada won yesterday and that’s great and all but have you peeped Nick Robertson’s (forward) snipe?— RHD of your dreams. (@AsTradition) December 27, 2019
His curl and drag is an absolute beauty.
Spending the day watching Nick Robertson games for Part 2 of The Gifted next week and yeah... pic.twitter.com/9ZaZnlA2LX— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) July 25, 2019
WELCOME BACK NICK ROBERTSON! In his first game back at the PMC, @nickrob2001 snipes his 24th of the year past Guzda! @kirky_1424 and @semder009 with the helpers. 2-1 Attack.#GoPetesGo | #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/hs959wlSIs— Peterborough Petes (@PetesOHLhockey) January 10, 2020
Nick Robertson and Auston Matthews pic.twitter.com/jqvXDuWLMq— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 3, 2020
A major aspect of Robertson’s game that pops out in his highlights is his unrelenting drive and determination to win possession of the puck. He fights for everything and his motor never turns off. That mentality alone can create goals out of nothing just like an elite shot or impossible pass can.
I’m going to repeat the clip I showed earlier where Robertson basically looked like he was moving twice as fast as the rest of the video. He created a scoring chance out of nothing. There are so many examples where he cornered a defender retreating for space, stole the puck from under their nose, and went on to deke out the goalie or have the defense scramble as his teammate taps in an easy goal from the weak side.
I speak about this aspect of his game more in the last section, but this is one of the big reasons why he’s being given an NHL opportunity.
Nick Robertson, everyone pic.twitter.com/hYjU9QQcHf— 51Leafs (@51Leafs) July 28, 2019
For a player like Robertson, it’s easy to see him get carried away sometimes, either on solo rushes or pushing too far and missing the play transitioning the other way. It’s a side effect of the massive pro that is his unrelenting attack. It’s hard to hide in the NHL, but the wing might be the easiest place to do it.
The Leafs like wingers who are hard on forechecks that push the play as far forward as they can. Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, Trevor Moore, and Dmytro Timashov have all done this on the left side in recent years. Robertson fits that mold in that aspect of the game. What will be important is learning the system and sticking to it as much as possible.
Sheldon Keefe isn’t a coach that creates a rigid system, so it’s not like he’ll be devoid of creativity forever. Robertson will just need to learn his job, gain some experience, and grow some patience. It should all come with age.
Scott Wheeler has described Robertson as being susceptible to tunnel-vision when he has the puck. That description brings me back to Trevor Moore, who would often grab the puck and zip to the right corner before either taking a shot or throwing the puck into empty space. It wasn’t the most effective strategy (though it looked good on the shot maps), but it showed off good skills and allowed the Leafs to get into the offensive zone. Unlike the Petes, Robertson won’t be the alpha on the Leafs and won’t have the burden of moving the puck on his own. He has the chance to be a secondary part of the offense rather than the primary point of attack.
Like when Robertson said he wanted to shoot more between last year and this year, there’s hope he’ll be able to learn this skill and add it to his toolbelt by making it more a part of his in-game mentality.
He’s 18, he’s never played an NHL game before, and if he’s going to be in the playoffs this summer, there will be some quirks and mistakes that pop up. But right now, Robertson has a lot of latitude to make those mistakes because fans and the team both know there’s real upside in him and the possibility for the godo to outweigh the bad.
Robertson is going to be on the Return to Play roster for the Maple Leafs, all at the tender age of 18. If he plays in a game, he’d be the youngest player to make his Leafs debut in a very long time, and definitely in this era. Matthews was 19 when he made his debut, he was just slightly on the other side of the September 15th draft deadline. The current record holder, who will never be beaten under the current rules, is Eric Prentice, who made his Leafs debut in 1927 at the tender age of 17.
Kyle Dubas has said that Robertson will be given every opportunity in camp in order to make the team and play games in the playoffs. There shouldn’t be any concern with his size because there are short players all over the NHL and Robertson is quite ripped if you follow his social media channels.
“Robertson is a chaser. And he’s not going to slow down. He’s not the player who’s going to wait between the offensive zone circles while your defenceman waits for a line change. Rightly or wrongly, he’s going to pursue you and hound you.” - Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
The biggest reason why Robertson has a chance to make this roster is that he has an unrelenting work ethic. He doesn’t stop moving, doesn’t stop thinking, and he’s always finding ways to fight for the puck, gain possession, and score. On most of the Marlies I watch, the talent is there — they’re capable of being in the NHL in some form or another — the differentiating factor for them getting there or not is whether they’re working hard every night.
Adam Brooks has that work ethic, as does Mac Hollowell. Trevor Moore, Travis Dermott, and Pierre Engvall are all NHLers today because they worked hard in the minors. Not to be too harsh, but Andreas Borgman, Mason Marchment, and Jeremy Bracco are all examples of players who didn’t have that work ethic (at least consistently), and they’re all at various points of being forgotten by the Leafs organization.
Johnston says the Leafs weren't happy with Bracco's year. He didn't take a step forward this year and his "future with the organization is in serious question". Johnston thinks there's a scenario where the Leafs let Bracco walk in the offseason and do not make a qualifying offer— Arjun (@_marlanderthews) July 13, 2020
Robertson had over 100 texts with the nutritionist. He would send a picture of every meal and ask for feedback the entire year. He would send videos of his off ice workouts to strength coaches to get feedback— Arjun (@_marlanderthews) July 13, 2020
If Nick Robertson can work hard — and everything I’ve seen and heard from him has indicated that he does — then he should have no problem sticking around with the big boys and making the coaching staff’s job to cut someone else really hard.
The hype train is moving fast, and it has every right to be, because this kid is really talented and he doesn’t let those abilities keep his foot off the pedal. Full speed ahead.
I could sit and watch these all day long.
Over/Under: How many Playoff games does Robertson get this summer?
|Less than 4||381|
|More than 4||197|
Where should Nick Robertson be ranked?
|Higher than this||53|
|5th is correct||402|
|Lower than this||97|
Where does Robertson rank among Leafs forwards in three years?