Over the weekend Terry Koshan wrote an excellent profile of just how great Nick Robertson has been doing in Peterborough this season. If you haven’t been paying attention the Leafs top junior prospect, I encourage you to give it a read as it may bring you around to where I am, jumping to the conclusion that the best thing for a 19 year old winger is to be in the NHL and fighting for a spot on the 3rd line.
“Despite missing chunks of the regular season — a broken finger in November put Robertson on the sideline for a month, and he then was absent when he was representing the United States at the world juniors — Robertson hasn’t let up on OHL goaltenders, scoring 33 times in 30 games heading into the Petes’ contest in Hamilton on Sunday.”
It’s safe to say that Robertson has found his goal scoring touch, one that was already largely there putting up 27 goals in 54 games during his draft year, but exceeding a goal per game pace is probably a sign that there really isn’t a whole lot left for Robertson to do in the Ontario Hockey League.
“For Wilson, Robertson’s attitude throughout the season has been exemplary. We’ve seen the NHL-ready shot Robertson possesses and the way he can put the puck in areas where goalies aren’t expecting it to go.
That’s just part of it.
“The shot is unbelievable and he gets it away really quick, but it’s his tenacity that really catches my eye at times,” Wilson said. “I tell him he just needs to lead by his work ethic — he drives our team, even in the gym.”
The issue with Robertson being so good is that he’s also so young, which doesn’t really sound like a problem, except for when you consider that he will go into next season being ineligible to play for the Marlies. Robertson will have only 3 OHL seasons under his belt, and will only be 19 when the season starts, failing to meet the requirement of 4 seasons or being 20 years old. His options are pretty much the Leafs or the Petes and the Petes are probably not the best situation and there is a difference between over-ripening and allowing development to become stagnant.
Beyond the necessity of giving Robertson his shot with the Leafs and the fact that the numbers dictate that he’s at least earned a long look, there are other benefits as well.
While the Leafs are currently sitting quite deep on wingers with Marner, Nylander, Kapanen, Hyman, Johnsson, Engvall, Mikheyev, Kerfoot, and Moore looking to own the available positions next season, idea of bringing in Robertson is affordable back fill to any player that may be moved during the offseason. Robertson’s $850k contract represents a savings over any of these players, with the exception of Trevor Moore. Robertson likely signed this deal with the goal of it helping him get to the NHL sooner, and that should pay off for him as it has for Sandin.
The idea of bringing Robertson to the NHL doesn’t share some of the horror stories normally associated with rushed prospects. First of all, he’s already put in his overage year, he wasn’t rushed day one. Second of all, the Leafs aren’t bringing him into any situation where he’d be asked to play a significant role in the top six, on the power play or penalty kill. He’d be given ice time and given a chance to earn more. Third, the Leafs have used their resources to put together one hell of a player development department that you’d want your best young players to have access to as soon as possible. I’m not sure where there belief that you can’t develop players after they’ve arrived in the NHL came from, but it’s a idea that needs to go away. Finally, even if I’m wrong, the Leafs have the out of sending him back before his 10th game to preserve his entry level contract or before the mid point of the year to allow his free agent status not to slide either.
The idea of the Leafs having the flexibility to either address their blueline concerns while having an immediate replacement at forward is a huge plus, as it opportunity to make a move to reacquire a high draft pick and some cap space. Nick Robertson represents the opportunity to improve the Leafs while spending very little, and that’s important because they have very little money to work with this summer (again).
For now, I’ll cool it and just go back to enjoy watching Peterborough Petes highlights, but when summer rolls around it will again be time to consider where Robertson fits into the plans for 2020-21. It will also be interesting to see if Dubas approaches the trade deadline with an acknowledgement that he has a solid option waiting for him next season.