This is my second of six 2019 NHL Draft Recap articles, in which I do a deep dive into every Maple Leafs selection from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
I’m a big fan of Nick Robertson’s game.
In my 2019 NHL Draft rankings, I had Robertson ranked 26th overall. I considered him to be a first-round calibre prospect for a number of reasons. In this article, I’ll be breaking down why I love Robertson’s game such much, and what I think he could become for the Leafs in the future.
With the puck on his stick, Nick Robertson grabs your attention. He is highly skilled, extremely deceptive, and very smart.
Robertson sees the ice tremendously well, and he can complete highly difficult passes on both his forehand and his backhand. He is a very deceptive passer, one who throws in no-look, fake-shot, and spin-o-rama passes. Robertson is also great at delaying his pass, holding onto the puck for an extra half second or two to really throw defenders off guard. His deception as a passer creates lanes for him to exploit, and it is part of what makes Robertson such a great playmaker.
Check out this spin-o-rama pass he made to Arthur Kaliyev in the CHL Top Prospects game from this past year. This is exactly the type of creative play Robertson attempts (and completes) quite often:
Here’s another pass from the same game. Robertson is patient with the puck before pulling it away from the defender’s stick. Once the defender bites, he then slides an incredibly accurate feed to Peyton Krebs who is wide open for the tap in.
Robertson loves to use his snapshot, and for good reason. It’s a heavy, accurate shot which doesn’t take very long to get it off. Check out this absolute snipe from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The ability to catch the pass and roof it so quickly is extremely difficult to pull off:
Here’s another shot from that same game to complete the hat trick, compiled or your viewing pleasure. Just a truly wicked play:
Robertson also uses deception in his shot. He loves to use a Matthews-like toe drag at times to help him change his release point, throw off goalies, and manoeuvre around sticks that are in his way.
Here are a few examples from this past season:
Robertson doesn’t score all of his goals off of this snapshot, either. He’s got a cannon of a one-timer in his arsenal as well that is just as lethal. Robertson can score in multiple ways, which is an important trait to have at the next level.
Robertson’s hands are incredible. They are a big part of what make him such an offensive threat and skilled transitional player highly adept at zone entries.
At the NHL level, were he to make it there, Robertson will do well in zone entry stats and puck possession metrics because of this. He could stickhandle in a phone booth and has a wide variety of moves at his disposal. Every so often, you’ll see Robertson outright burn two or three opposing players in a span of a couple of seconds, and it’s incredibly entertaining to watch.
Here are a few examples:
Robertson’s hands also make him a big threat to score on breakaways, as we can see here:
Robertson isn’t just skilled. His game is all out, all the time. He doesn’t seem to have an off switch. He’s just go, go, go.
Robertson isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas and engage in puck battles along the boards with bigger players. Despite being comparatively smaller, Robertson actually does pretty well in the corners because of how shifty he is with the puck, as we can see here:
Robertson’s compete level is off the charts, showing that he’ll never dog it on either the forecheck or the backcheck. He’ll also dive in front of shots and into lanes defensively, like this:
He plays much harder than you’d expect from a typical 5’9 skilled winger.
Robertson also seems to be a very motivated kid off the ice as well. Here’s what John Lilley, Maple Leafs director of amateur scouting had to say on Robertson’s personality:
“He’s a highly, highly motivated young man, very very serious. We met with him on several occasions, we did the background, he’s driven, and that’s part of what we like about him is, aside from the skill and the hockey sense, this kid lives, breathes, and eats hockey. That’s all he does. You have to put the faith that the player is gonna do the work because as we know the pyramid gets smaller and you need highly motivated people, and he’s certainly one of those guys. He wants it.”
This statement is quite encouraging, and it’s very believable based on the way Robertson competes on the ice. We often forget that while prospects need talent and hockey sense, they also need to have the drive and the motivation to get better. It’s hard to become an NHL hockey player, and it isn’t something that you accomplish without putting in the work, especially if you are a later pick.
Robertson’s skating is the one issue I have with his game.
Since he tries really hard and is always moving, Robertson tricks some people into believing that he is actually quite fast when, alternatively, I don’t think that that’s the case. Robertson has a decent first step, but his top speed isn’t quite where it needs to be. Adding a separation gear would help him create more rush chances, get more breakaways, and be first to the puck more often.
Where Robertson’s skating does excel, however, is in his edgework. His ability to shift laterally is actually quite good and makes him tough to handle in the corners as a deceiving puck carrier. Robertson is not a *bad* skater, per say, but his skating isn’t quite where I’d like it to be for a 5’9 forward.
Luckily for Robertson, he was drafted into an organization that is known to develop skating well, in large part thanks to world-class skating coach Barb Underhill. I have faith that Robertson will work hard to improve in this area, and that he has the right resources available to him to do so.
Overall, Nick Robertson is a dynamic offensive threat. He’s a great passer and owns a fantastic wrist shot and one-timer. He scores in a variety of ways and is great at using the art of deception to break down defences and create opportunities for himself and for his teammates.
Robertson is a crafty, shifty forward who can deke out opposing players and goaltenders. He has great vision, and he is a sound decision-maker who doesn’t commit a ton of unforced errors. He’s also a fierce competitor who doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything, and he’ll always give it his all. His tools are good enough to make him a potential top-6 forward at the NHL level.
With that being said, Robertson is also a 5’9 forward who lacks that separation gear. Failing to improve his skating would mean fewer breakaways, fewer chances on the rush, and fewer won puck battles.
At the very least, Robertson could become an effective third line winger who contributes well to a power play unit. I think it’s more likely that he becomes a 2nd line winger though because while his straight line speed isn’t amazing, he’s also not incredibly slow. It’s not as if he has to go through some sort of night-and-day transformation here. I think he’ll be able to develop into a good enough skater, and his skill and work ethic is undeniable.
Leafs fans should be very happy with this draft selection, and I am quite excited to continue to monitor his development over the next few years. I still truly believe he should’ve been selected in the first round, and I am not alone in believing that.