Toronto Maple Leafs: The Case for Nick Robertson In the NHL

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson #16 of the Peterborough Petes (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson #16 of the Peterborough Petes (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a prospect tournament this weekend and by all accounts Nick Robertson was their best player.

As the Toronto Maple Leafs current top prospect, that is to be expected.  Robertson scored over a goal per game in the OHL at the age of 18 and then played in the NHL Playoffs almost directly after being drafted.

Needless to say, expectations are high.  Consider also that since 1990, only Eric Lindros, John Tavares, John Tavares again,  and Patrick Kane have scored over a goal per game in the OHL while 18 years of age or younger.

That is  tantalizing company, and  obviously, everyone of those guys has at least one 40 goal season to his credit and gone on to what is most likely a Hall of Fame Career.

Maybe expectations shouldn’t be that high for Robertson, but given that 100% of the guys he compares to over a 30 year period all skipped the AHL, perhaps we shouldn’t write of his chances of making the Toronto Maple Leafs out of camp this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Robertson

I realize it might be a bit of a longshot due to the number of players the Leafs will be auditioning, however, not a single one of those players (excepting possibly Nikita Gusev) is on Nick Robertson’s level from a talent/ceiling perspective.

There are two additional motivations for the Leafs to play him in the NHL this year: one is that his shot gives their power-play a credible decoy for Auston Matthews, or the option to use him in the Matthews role on the second unit.

The second reason is that having an impact player on an entry level contract will give them a ton of flexibility when it comes to adding to the team at the trade deadline., because whoever Robertson pushes out of the lineup likely makes at least double what he does.

In the end, I still think that there is a good chance that Robertson starts the year with the Marlies.  The Leafs are not going to be short of options and since Robertson won’t have to clear waivers, they would have plenty of time to audition their options and make a decision later in the season.

Ultimately, it isn’t going to hurt Robertson to have to play in the AHL, but the Leafs are going to be in a dog fight to win their division and get a favorable first-round matchup from day one, so I don’t know if they have the luxury of not taking their best players to start the year.

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Nick Robertson doesn’t need to be a key player for the Leafs, and maybe he wouldn’t be ready for the NHL if he had to be ‘the guy’ on a bad team.  But on the Leafs, he can be used judiciously and his shot can be utilized as a weapon.  The correct move  would be to start him in the NHL.