What Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Nicholas Robertson Means to Team USA

Toronto Maple Leafs -Nicholas Robertson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs -Nicholas Robertson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will have multiple prospects playing in the World Junior Championships. Nicholas Robertson may play a unique role for Team USA.

This past weekend was a big one for the many hopeful American Juniors who look to earn a spot competing for their country in this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC). Twenty-eight invitees converged on Plymouth, Michigan for training camp. One of them was Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Nicholas Robertson.

Unlike the NHL preseason, this camp has very tight timelines. Robertson and the rest of the players were scheduled to arrive on Sunday, Dec. 15 and participate in a pair of practices the next day. They then had a single additional morning skate and a controlled scrimmage against USA Hockey’s Under-18 National Team Development Program (NTDP) squad.

At the conclusion of that scrimmage, John Vanbiesbrouck, the general manager of the national junior team and assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, were able to trim their numbers. The final roster will be made up of 23 men under the age of 20 and after 28 began, only 26 remain. All of whom will be traveling to the Czech Republic.

Robertson will be one of the U20s making the long flight. The Americans play two exhibition games prior to the team having to submit their final roster by Dec. 24. The tournament begins on Boxing Day with a preliminary round matchup against Team Canada.

Robertson doesn’t fit the mold for USA at the WJC. The majority of their players are seasoned by spending time with the NTDP. Instead of participating in USHL action with a home rink in Plymouth, Robertson played in the OHL. It’s fitting for a player who played his minor hockey in Toronto with the GTHL.

Playing with the Peterborough Petes this season, Robertson has been outstanding. He is averaging greater than a goal per game. In 22 contests he has 23 goals. He has also picked up 12 helpers for a total of 35 points. Robertson’s talent and scoring touch are undeniable. With just three players left to be axed, Robertson isn’t likely to find himself on the outside looking in.

Along with Vanbiesbrouck, there is a team of coaches that will help decide Robertson’s fate.

Meet Team USA’s Coaches

Scott Sandelin will be the head coach of Team USA. Though not a widely recognizable name, Sandelin is the head coach of the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. He was an excellent choice to lead the team with a stacked coaching resume that dates as far back as 1992. Sandelin has been coaching longer than his WJC players have been alive. Robertson is 18, born in 2001 when Sandelin was already in his second year as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

This will be Sandelin’s fourth time behind the bench at the tournament. He was the head coach in 2005 and an assistant in 2012 when the Americans left empty-handed. He was also an assistant on Mike Hasting’s silver-winning staff last year.

Sandelin will be joined in Plymouth and travel to Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic with four assistant coaches. They are Steve Miller (head coach for Ohio State University), David Lassonde (head coach for Dartmouth College), Jerry Keefe (head coach for Northeastern University), and Brett Larson (head coach of St. Cloud State University). Larson is the only coach who was not a member of the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team coaching staff.

Rounding Out USA’s WJC Camp

Robertson and his teammates will face another Maple Leafs prospect, Rasmus Sandin and Sweden on Dec. 22 and square off against Germany the next night. After this, the player will be fully evaluated and the final cuts will be made.

It is expected that Robertson will find himself on the third line, trying to make ingratiate himself to the coaches and earn as much playing time as possible. Robertson may own an advantage since Sandelin and his staff are already familiar with his family.

Robertson’s brother, Jason, played for Team USA in last year’s WJC. He played well, picking up a goal and six assists in the seven games he played. Jason now plays for the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. As a second-round pick (#39 overall) of the Stars, they are hoping that he will develop into someone that can play in a top-six role on their NHL club.

The Leafs will be watching their second-round draft pick (#53 overall), seeing if he can outdo his brother. It will not be the first time Toronto’s scouts will see Robertson in an international tournament. He was a part of the 2018 IIHF USA team that earned a fourth-place finish at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He had four goals and an assist in five games there.

Ideally for Robertson, he is able to use this experience to show the Leafs that he is ready to make the leap from the OHL. Though young, a very strong tournament should be enough to get him a serious look at next season’s NHL training camp. While making the Leafs next season might be a long shot, medalling in the Czech Republic is not.

Having a player as skilled as Robertson played deep in the lineup shows that the team has serious depth and should not be taken lightly.

The Invitees

The original list of 28 invitees included Jon Gruden who was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft fourth round. He went 95th overall. It also had Robert Mastrosimone on it. He was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2019 at 54th overall in the second round. Unfortunately, Gruden and Mastosimone were the only two players cut ahead of the trip overseas.

Here are the remaining 26 players:

Goaltenders

  • Spencer Knight (Drafted by the Florida Panthers 2019 1st round, 13 overall)
  • Isaiah Saville (Drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights 2019 5th round, 135 overall)
  • Dustin Wolf (Drafted by the Calgary Flames 2019 7th round, 214 overall)

Forwards

  • John Beecher (Drafted by the Boston Bruins 2019 1st round, 30th overall)
  • Bobby Brink (Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2019 2nd round, 34th overall)
  • Cole Caufield (Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 2019 1st round, 15th overall)
  • Jack Drury (Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes 2018 2nd round, 42nd overall)
  • Parker Ford (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
  • Curtis Hall (Drafted by the Boston Bruins 2018 4th round, 119th overall)
  • Trevor Janicke (Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks 2019 5th round, 132nd overall)
  • Arthur Kaliyev (Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 2019 2nd round, 33rd overall)
  • Shane Pinto (Drafted by the Ottawa Senators 2019 2nd round, 32nd overall)
  • Jacob Pivonka (Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes 2018 4th round, 103rd overall)
  • Nick Robertson (Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 2nd round, 53rd overall)
  • Alex Turcotte (Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 2019 1st round, 5th overall)
  • Trevor Zegras (Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks 2019 1st round, 9th overall)

Defense

  • Ty Emberson (Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes 2018 3rd round, 73rd overall)
  • Jordan Harris (Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 2018 3rd round, 71st overall)
  • Ryan Johnson (Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres 2019 1st round, 31st overall)
  • Zac Jones (Drafted by the New York Rangers 2019 3rd round, 68th overall)
  • Christian Krygier (Drafted by the New York Islanders 2018 7th round, 196th overall)
  • K’Andre Miller (Drafted by the New York Rangers 2018 1st round, 22nd overall)
  • Alec Regula (Acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks – Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 2018 3rd round, 67th overall)
  • Mattias Samuelsson (Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres 2018 2nd round, 32nd overall)
  • Spencer Stastney (Drafted by the Nashville Predators 2018 5th round, 131st overall)
  • Cam York (Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2019 1st round, 14th overall)

Expect Wolf the goalie and Krygier the defenseman to be left off the team along with potentially one more forward. That could possibly be Ford. If that’s accurate, it will be exciting to see Robertson play in his first WJC.

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Leafs fans will surely be watching team Canada, but should also check out the Americans so that they can catch a glimpse of their future with Robertson.