The Maple Leafs can’t let go of Nick Robertson

News broke this week, once again, of Toronto Maple Leafs prospects Nick Robertson will be Out for the rest of the season After undergoing season-ending surgery on his injured shoulder.

It’s frustrating and frustrating on all levels as the 21-year-old earned a few more games in the NHL this season and seemingly found his feet with the big club after several injuries prolonged his development with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The last few seasons.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The lack of growth in his game sparked conversation around Robertson as to whether he was a player the organization should keep and develop or continue and use as a trade piece at some point in the year. Obviously the injury put a stop to that conversation, and while he can’t be held accountable for his continued bad luck when it comes to injuries, his future with the Maple Leafs continues to be a talking point for fans of the organization.

With that in mind, even the thought of moving on from Robertson should be considered a mistake by the organization for a number of reasons — and it starts with his play as he consistently stretches.

Robertson’s production isn’t alarming

Say what you will about his preseason play this season — sure, it’s just the preseason — but Robertson has cleaned up offensively for the Maple Leafs in an effort to crack their opening night roster. He finished with three goals and eight points in five games, and still, he didn’t make the opening night lineup.

But it didn’t take long. On October 20, with his brother’s Dallas Stars in town, Robertson joined the lineup and scored two goals, including the game winner in overtime. He played over 14 minutes and had four shots on goal.

From there, he had a short run before getting injured and fighting for a spot in the lineup again after his sudden return. nevertheless, Sheldon Keefe He was able to get him into the lineup here and there, but consistency was his worst enemy.

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He had five points in 15 games before the shoulder injury, but he was sprinkled up and down the lineup — line mates and playing time weren’t a consistent part of his game either. Because of this, his defensive zone coverage was sparse at times, and there was criticism — albeit constructive — from Keefe about what Robertson had to do to get into the lineup and stick there.

However, when he got a few more reps in early December, he was injured again. This time it was a shoulder injury that required recent surgery to end his season after playing just 1:58 against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 8.

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As you can see by his numbers, the production is there. With consistency in playing time — like anyone — he could push himself into a top-six role at some point down the road. If his determination and drive are anything like what we’ve seen in recent offseasons, Robertson will find a way to force the organization’s hand to get himself into the Maple Leafs’ lineup.

Robertson’s determination is evident in his play

If Robertson’s growth over the past few seasons wasn’t enough to show how badly he wants to be a regular at the NHL level, his poise this season while being scratched and his professionalism in dealing with questions from members of the media have shown. So that he can fit into the next level.

Think back to 2021, when Hailey Wickenheiser — who was the team’s senior director of player development at the time — talked about Robertson’s role with the team both in development camp and moving forward.

From the perspective of the development camp, he stepped into a leadership role. It happened more this season and it showed in camp and in the preseason with his play. While injury after injury cut his opportunities, the Maple Leafs brass didn’t ignore his growth.

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I think actually for Nick, a secret might be for him to dial it back sometimes and be more relaxed about who he is as a person and as a player,” Wickenheiser said in 2021. “I think he saw firsthand that hockey (at a pro level) was a lot better than he expected, and some of the things you can do in junior you can’t carry over to the next level.”

That’s where determination comes in. With the puck, we saw more patience when he attacked aggressively. The poise gave him a better chance to survey the ice and see opportunities while creating more dangerous chances.

His growth in that aspect of his game will lead the Maple Leafs brass to believe he can make the same adjustments to his game defensively. Changes in that area may put him over the edge as an NHL-caliber player, but it also comes with consistent play. When he’s healthy, he should be in the lineup. Otherwise, simulating game situations in practice may not be enough to help Robertson take the next step in his development.

Robertson’s youth should still be considered

Above all, consider the fact that Robertson is still only 21 years old. He will be 22 when the 2023-24 season begins and is still considered a strong prospect for the organization even in his up-and-down season in terms of health.

While it would be unfair to compare the two, his brother Jason didn’t have his breakout season until he turned 21 in 2020-21. Again, his opportunities in Dallas were much different than what Robertson saw in Toronto. The elder Robertson finished with 17 goals and 45 points in 51 games as a 21-year-old and has since become one of the NHL’s more elite talents.

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Again, the comparison shouldn’t serve as a shadow over Robertson of the Maple Leafs. Rather a reminder that it takes time and opportunity to develop some of these young prospects, and sometimes even longer.

The skills are there, we saw what he can do in juniors and while the NHL is a long way from playing in the OHL, natural talent doesn’t just fade away. Still, health and consistency will be the determining factor. But it’s not time for the Maple Leafs to give up on Robertson. Doing so would be a big mistake as he still has a lot to offer at just 21 years old.

After all, we all remember the revenge tour the former Maple Leafs took during the Toronto game, and it’s fair to assume Robertson would be no different if the Maple Leafs released him now.

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