The Toronto Maple Leafs are not good at breaking young players into the lineup.
I don't know if this is a Sheldon Keefe specific problem, but it is a problem. In the last five years, the
Leafs haven't developed a single non-elite prospect into an above average NHL player.
Yes, Joseph Woll, Matt Knies and Timothy Liljegren all appear on the verge of changing that, but “on
the verge” does not mean Mission Accomplished.
Woll has a long way to go before he can be relied upon, Knies is miscast as a rookie top-line left-winger on a team with Cup aspirations, and Timothy Liljegren, while improving, still doesn't appear to have the trust of the coach.
And Nick Robertson? Forget it.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Give Nick Robertson a Shot
Before Wednesday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, Robertson had goals in four of his
last six games. Then it was his hard work that won the game for the Leafs in OT.
Most, if not all of his goals have come 5v5, and he is one of the highest scoring
members of the Leafs on a per minute basis.
Robertson may not be the most complete player, but he's got an incredible motor, and
he's got an incredible, possibly even elite shot.
A coach's job is to get the best out of his players, and the way Keefe uses Robertson
feels like he doesn't have any idea how to do that.
Unfortunately, it seems like NHL Coaches need every player to fit the same mold of an all-round player. This is silly. A better coach would make use of the best skills of the players he has.
So you don't want Robertson on the ice when the Leafs are in their own zone. Maybe you
don't trust him when defending a lead. That's fine.
But when there is an offensive zone faceoff, why not put him on the ice with Auston
Matthews and Mitch Marner? Why isn't he on the power-play?
Nick Robertson's shot could make the Leafs power-play unstoppable. Like Tampa, they
should put a defenseman in the middle of the blue-line, use him like a fulcrum and have him pass it to Matthews and Robertson for one-timers, then let Bertuzzi or Knies fight for the rebounds, and
repeat until they score.
A second unit with Tavares, Knies/Bertuzzi and Nylander using a different strategy would confound
opponents and make the Leafs power-play unstoppable.
Finally, I would just like to point out that neither Zach Hyman or Michael Bunting are
traditional power-forwards, and that both are somewhat small (Hyman is 6'1, Bunting 6') and scrappy. Robertson is smaller than both of them, but his speed and his motor could make him the ideal successor to those 2 players who essentially became franchise-level players at 5v5 when paired with the Leafs two superstars.
I haven't been a big fan of Keefes, but I have said that he shouldn't be blamed for the Leafs current mess (because the GM has been awful in every possible way). That said, if he can't find a way to make Nick Robertson's incredible talent help the team, then he can't be a very good coach.
Even if it's just when the Leafs start in the O-zone, Nick Robertson has earned a shot on the top line.