It has been three years since Kyle Dubas drafted the prototypical Zippy Little Winger from the Peterborough Petes, but Nick Robertson seems stuck in time on our Top 25 rankings; not moving up, while being leapfrogged by newer draft picks.
A combination of terrible luck with injuries and the pandemic cutting AHL games and costing him valuable development time and experience has left Robertson a question mark to many. He’s certainly still a great prospect, but now about to turn 21 years-old, these events have left Robertson looking like he’s standing still beside a group of newer hot-shot prospects quickly skating up the ranks.
Robertson needs a chance to prove himself to get called to play in the Maple Leafs’ lineup every night, and this coming training camp is going to be the most important chance he’s ever had to do just that. But will it happen?
It’s make or break time for Robertson, and hopefully this season he won’t “break” like last year.
Robertson turns 21 this coming Sunday. He was famously born about two months premature on the morning of September 11, 2001, timing which also made him eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft which had a cutoff birth date of September 15, 2001.
Through all that time, Robertson has retained a position as the face of Leafs prospects. It was only a few months ago Katya wrote about how major media outlets like Sportsnet and The Star had all used a photo of Nick Robertson as their header on articles about Leafs prospects. Even casual Leafs fans have heard of him, but that status as the face of the prospect corps is starting to change.
Newer forward prospects like Matthew Knies—who we ranked at #3—and Finnish prospect Roni Hirvonen—who we ranked at #7—both have risen in prominence to a point where even casual fans have heard of them and are excited about them eventually joining the team. Knies in particular appears to have a huge following among Leafs fans already, despite that he has yet to play in even a single exhibition or prospects game for the Leafs. He also generated huge media buzz at the recent Leafs development camp. Knies has committed to stay in the NCAA for this coming season and to play for the University of Michigan; all while Robertson seems to be slowly becoming an afterthought beside him.
But has Knies really earned all that hype to blow past Robertson already?
Robertson remains ranked at the same #5 spot largely because he hasn’t had that chance yet to prove himself. He played very few games last season due to an unfortunate injury, the Leafs roster being full-up without him, and the Marlies having an unexpectedly short season where they didn’t make the playoffs. There was no time and nowhere for him to go and do what he needed to show what he can be.
The injury stands out as a critical and tough moment, fracturing his fibula in only the second Marlies game of the season, putting him out injured for months and only returning to play again in January.
After finally returning to the Marlies, Robertson eventually did get a call-up to the Leafs in February where he had a short series of games and produced... not much.
There was one goal, which was also his only NHL point for the season as he had zero assists in the rest of the games before being returned to the Marlies. It was also his first regular-season goal; he had one goal in the playoffs back in 2020, and none for the Leafs in the 2020-21 season.
It’s a nice goal, and a great feed from William Nylander, but therein lies the problem with ranking him: for a player who was drafted three years ago we still have so little hard data to understand what he is capable of doing at the NHL level. The limited sample of NHL games, and the AHL games that were in part played in only a one-off Canada-only division through the pandemic season, plus the injury above and some others leave us with the reality that Robertson simply hasn’t had the chance to prove himself yet.
Obviously, the next chance to do that is coming up soon. The Leafs first pre-season games are on September 24—there’s two games that day, and I expect the very large training camp roster means each player will only be in one. Whichever group Robertson gets to play with, he needs to knock it out of the park, and then keep doing that again in the next game and the next.
Our voters generally placed him at #5, with most having Knies above him, and some also placing Topi Niemelä above him as well.
Nick Robertson Votes
|Josh - Smaht Scouting||5|
|The Decline and Fall of the Roman Polak||7|
|Spread in Votes||3|
Here’s what they had to say about their choice of ranking Robertson where they did, plus more on his game and his status among all the future prospects that are vying for one those elusive open roster sports at Maple Leafs training camp in the next few weeks:
dhammm: Robertson now is in the zone Liljegren, Kadri, and Steen were in around their D+3/D+4 seasons, where a few years of familiarity and then impatience that a kid is not yet an impact NHL regular have soured everyone on a player who still looks like he’ll make it. Injuries remain a concern, but he still put up a point-per-game in the AHL last season and is more likely to succeed than not at this rate. Whatever your perception of them, Knies and Robbie share similar likelihoods of becoming impact NHLers and stars. Robbie should challenge for a spot on the left side out of camp, especially if Kerfoot’s the one that gets dumped.
Brigstew: My big concern with Robertson is not how good he is or can be, it’s his health. He’s missed so much time with significant injuries, and I can’t help but think that will have affected his development. To the point that I’m less sure of his ability to really have an impact in the NHL, or stay healthy enough to do it even if he gets good enough. But he’s still pretty young, which I think we all forget. He’s only a month younger than Amirov, or four months younger than Hirvonen. He has time to figure it out, but staying healthy is very important this year.
Hardev: Robertson is going to spend a long time as a Leafs pick until he breaks into the NHL full time (which will happen), whether that’s one, two, or three more years from now when he’s the grand old age of 24. It’s what happened to Liljegren, he was just around for so long he became frustrating to people. I hope Wick gets him in line (he’s American, he has no choice), and I hope he grows out of the junior style that sticks to OHLers and can play a really good pro game someday. I won’t be holding my breath, but instead be happy when it happens. Robertson needs to work on facilitating the puck up the ice as a group, slowing down to work within the system, and improve his elusiveness so he can sneak away from defenders. That’s what I’ll be looking for with the Marlies.
TomK421: It’s not a question of if Nicky Robby will be in the NHL, it’s when. The hand wringing and prospect fatigue over this guy has gotten out of control. He’s still so, sooooo young, but has a real shot at that 2LW spot coming out of camp, especially if the seemingly inevitable Kerfoot trade happens. Just don’t break anything please.
Katya: A person I know, who is no fool, said about NRob that they had seen nothing from him in the NHL that said he belonged there. This person does not watch the AHL, and I thought that was a valuable POV. They said this to me at a time when I was watching Robertson in the NHL last season and thinking about all his NHL games here and there over two years and saying inside my head, this is not as good a performance in total as that one nervous game the Leafs gave Mason Marchment. I had Robertson tied with Amirov and Sandin in my head for two years, and now I don’t. I have never, it should be said, wrung my hands, but he looks busy in the NHL, not effective in any way.
Hayley Wickenheiser was quoted at the 2021 Leafs training camp with a concise and simple answer to a question on Robertson’s game, saying that he needs to “dial it back at times a little bit and to just relax more into who he is as a person and as a player,” and perhaps what she meant by that is how one can work really hard but wind up doing no more than running around trying to do everything and accomplishing nothing, and doesn’t that sound similar to the description of his game from Katya’s comment above that “he looks busy in the NHL, not effective”?
If he still hasn’t figured out that part, he should to try and do it by September 24 if he wants to be certain to play for the Leafs this season. So can he? We’ll find out soon enough.
When is the first season Robertson plays more than 20 regular season games for the Leafs?
|This is it! 2022-23. He’s not dialing back, he’s gonna dial it up.||307|
|2022-23 only if there are injuries at his position.||199|
|Later than 2023-24.||22|
|He’ll crack the 20 game mark wherever he is traded.||92|