It’s been an exciting few weeks for Nick Robertson to say the least. He’s been through the Maple Leafs’ phase 3 Return to Play training camp and is a part of the 26 player roster, who entered the bubble on Sunday night.
As much as people think Robertson’s situation is crystal clear and he’s made the team, it’s not that simple.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Maple Leafs training camp was that the 18-year-old can play against NHL players. And as we’ve heard before, some teams in the league were hesitant to draft him because of his size, which we now know isn’t a problem.
That was one of the big “what ifs” when Mitch Marner was drafted, too. Yet he has turned out to be one of the NHL’s most dominant wingers.
Today’s @MapleLeafs practice lines and defensive pairings:
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 27, 2020
As the Maple Leafs get ready for their first and only exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens, everyone will be watching to see if Robertson can play against other NHL opponents.
Many of the league’s shortest players have succeeded in their roles within their teams and the 18-year-old is next to find out if he can.
If the Maple Leafs’ lineup is the exact same when they enter Scotiabank Arena tomorrow night, Robertson will likely face the Canadiens’ third defence pairing.
As it stands, this is their expected lineup:
Habs say lines are:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Armia
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Weise – Domi – Weal
Hudon – Poehling – Evans – Belzile
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Ouellet – Mete
Olofsson – Folin
Fleury – Juulsen
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) July 27, 2020
Robertson has a legit shot of playing well against the third pairing in the tweet above. Both Xavier Ouellet (6’1″) and Victor Mete (5’9″) are among the smallest players on the Canadiens, which might bode well for Robertson.
But the 18-year-old wants to play well against everyone, which is what he’s said to reporters in his last availability to the media. “The only thing I control is my work ethic,” said Robertson to Chris Johnston in a media zoom call, “whether I’m having a good game or not, I think just the work ethic, I think that’s what has to separate me from others.”
Whether it’s from his answers to the media, where he’s all business, to him staying on the ice after practice concludes, he’s shown his competitiveness. Now it’s time to see how he shows it, in a real NHL game situation.
“I think he [Robertson] needs to make an impact on the game,” said Keefe after the Maple Leafs’ last practice before entering the bubble, “‘can he look like himself?’ And be able to play at what I suspect is going to be the highest level, highest caliber game he’s played in.”
At every stage of his short, but great professional career, Robertson has looked himself everywhere he goes. This season in the OHL, he scored 55 goals in 46 games, and in the World Juniors he had five points in as many games.
Again the biggest question mark is him playing against bigger-sized players. Will he be able to dominate like he did in the OHL? Will he be able to score at a similar pace like he did in the OHL? These are all questions for fans, and Keefe.
For the Maple Leafs though, it’s all about winning. Robertson isn’t here to lead the team in scoring, or dominate by himself (okay, maybe he is). The reason he’s here is because he can help the team win, and that’s what he, and the rest of the Maple Leafs are focused on.
But I’ll leave you with this from Keefe — “There’s more happening here than we’re evaluating, that don’t involve Nick.” What that means is unknown, to me at least.
The only thing we do understand right now is that Robertson decides his fate, and what that will be is going to be uncovered tonight against Montreal.