The Toronto Maple Leafs have a decision on their hands this coming season; namely what to do about a certain young winger, Nick Robertson.
While there are plenty of other challenges and decisions to be made around the make-up of the 2022-23 Toronto Maple Leafs roster, Nick Robertson’s involvement is something often questioned by the fanbase.
Given his status as one of the top prospects in the team’s development pipeline, it’s not all that surprising that he is floated as a potential member of the line-up on opening night.
However, finding the right fit for him in the line-up remains a challenge that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t quite seem ready to face.
Toronto Maple Leafs Must Be Careful With Their Decision
The Toronto Maple Leafs must be careful about where in the line-up they play Nick Robertson as pushing him into the wrong spot might actually damage his development.
Over the past two seasons, Robertson saw 49 games with the Toronto Marlies, tallying 44 points (21 goals and 23 assists); impressive totals for a first-year pro.
Those efforts earned him a few brief looks with the Toronto Maple Leafs, though a meagre 2 point return over 16 games (3 points in 20 games including his 2019-20 playoff appearances) doesn’t exactly reflect the potential he has shown in the AHL.
Perhaps the challenge facing Toronto is the fact that Robertson is one of very few waiver-exempt players that are on the cusp of the line-up. This in itself makes it easier to keep him with the Marlies for one more season.
Likewise, the lack of a clear fit in the line-up makes it hard to place Nick Robertson with the Maple Leafs. He obviously has talent and certainly a release worthy of the top-six, but it’s hard to see him in the empty spot alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.
After all, he is somewhat more offensively-minded, as is Nylander on the right-side. John Tavares is reasonably sound defensively, but between the trio they’d be very much an offensive zone focused line as opposed to a traditional second line.
One third of his usage with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season (per Frozen Pool) was in fact with those two names, with their offensive numbers certainly suggesting it was a decent fit. However, those numbers come in just 32 minutes of ice-time so may not reflect the full story.
Looking further down the lines, Robertson will likely struggle lower in the line-up for much the same reasoning. The Maple Leafs third line has a focus on checking and more defensive play, whereas the fourth line is as yet a little undefined.
Otherwise paired with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds, it’s fair to suggest that the Leafs didn’t exactly make it easy on the 20 year-old. While still talented players, both had already seen their best days in the league.
If Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe pursue a fourth line that doesn’t fit the traditional template of low-event, checking hockey then maybe there’s a fit for Robertson there, but that’s yet to be seen.
If Nick Robertson is to make it stick this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the most obvious spot for him is indeed in the team’s top-six. If he’s going to pull it off, he will need to be mighty impressive at training camp.
Frankly though, it would seem he’s not quite ready to stake a permanent claim and may have to spend another year as a member of the Toronto Marlies.