Nick Robertson has played three games for the Toronto Maple Leafs since being called up on February 25th.
In those three games, Robertson has two penalty minutes and no goals on four shots. He’s had nine minutes, five minutes, and 11 minutes in his first three games this year for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Robertson isn’t even five months removed from a broken leg and has only played 30 games in the AHL over the last two seasons. Keefe giving him fourth line minutes to ease him in to NHL action was expected and the correct decision.
However, as is the question when every highly-touted prospect is starting out in the NHL, When do they take off the training wheels?
Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Robertson
Simply put, it depends. Robertson has shown off that speed across all 200 feet of the ice. He’s already one of the fastest skaters on the Leafs, maybe even the fastest. He’s given a much needed spark to the fourth line with Spezza and Simmonds. That line looks better than it has in months.
However, skating talent like this doesn’t belong on the fourth line. Don’t get me wrong, there are worse places for a young forward than Jazon Spezza’s wing, but Robertson isn’t going to make a noticeable impact in games with less than ten minutes a night.
The speed of the game hasn’t been an issue for Robertson since being called up. I think if the Leafs did give him more ice time he would make the most of it.
So what do the Leafs do with him?
I just can’t get past the 30 games in the last two years. The lack of games played make me think Keefe wants to really take his time with how much Robertson plays, so while I think Robertson will eventually force him way into a bigger role on a higher line, it could be awhile before we see him in the top six.
Assuming the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to keep Robertson on the roster, this gives him two things he hasn’t had in his career to this point: consistent time with NHL-quality teammates and consistent competition against NHL-quality players. He’ll get more comfortable playing with the puck as he gets more time.
So here’s what I think: Unless Robertson starts putting up some crazy numbers on the fourth line, Keefe will continue to ease him in to action. For the moment, I can understand why that isn’t ideal for fans, but we need to remember the circumstances of Robertson’s career to this point. It’s not like the Leafs are desperate for forwards at the moment. Also, considering that the Leafs are sitting at fifth in the league standings, it’s not like a change needs to be made right now to stay in the playoff race.
There is one thing that I think would speed up the timeline: the struggles of the second line. Personally, I don’t think Kerfoot is the best fit on the left side and would rather see someone else in that spot. Would Keefe put Robertson there? I don’t think so. Not yet at least. Keefe has shuffled that line a lot, and there are still options we haven’t seen yet, like putting Mikheyev in that spot.
The Leafs have three games in the next four days. Keep an eye on what Keefe does with Robertson and the ice time he gives the fourth line.
Late Update: The Leafs have announced Robertson will play on the second line with Tavares and Nylander next game.