Well, after a run of Marlies players through most of the top 10, we return to junior hockey and take a look at Nick Robertson. Of all the players in the rankings, no one scored higher on potential upside and talent than Nick Robertson. If this was a straight up prospect ranking there is a very good chance that we would be considering Robertson the number one guy, but as much as he’s answered a lot of questions about what he can do this year, the one question remains, “Is Nick Robertson NHL ready?”
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 28, 2020
The NHL’s decision yesterday complicates things for Nick Robertson a little more. The Leafs don’t have an AHL option for him next season, and it largely comes down to if he’s not a Leaf, he’s going to be returning to the OHL, and another question comes from that, “what more can he accomplish there?”
Let’s look at some of those accomplishments…
|2019-20||Peterborough Petes “A”||OHL||46||55||31||86||40|
|2019-20||Team USA WJHC||WJC-20||5||2||3||5||2|
So looking at the numbers there’s a pretty solid OHL debut season there. An impressive draft year, and a good showing at the World Juniors. Those are all impressive, but what we’ve seen from Robertson in Peterborough this year is truly special. He’s putting up over a goal per game, he’s nearly at two points per game, and has one of the best goal scoring seasons in OHL history. I’m going to guess some of that is going to translate to the pro level.
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.
Now, I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as I previously laid out. Robertson is going to have a lot of work to put in on the defensive side of the ice. That wasn’t a strength of the Petes and frankly it’s not really a strength of any junior hockey player and there will be a learning curve. The other piece is that Robertson plays a hard and aggressive game, but is a pretty small guy. That could take a toll on him and create a bigger learning curve for his offensive development with the Leafs. The decision also potentially burns through a contract year and free agency year if he sticks with the Leafs, though the Leafs could benefit from having a skilled player on an ELC. As it sits right now the Leafs aren’t exactly in a situation where they need to add or rush wingers into the lineup, so perhaps the compromise is to find a team to develop inline with the way the Leafs play, and of course the obvious team would be the Soo Greyhounds.
The reality of the situation is it would be great for Robertson to work out and be ready to be a Leaf next season, but the circumstance of the world being turned upside down is probably going to play a role in how things proceed. While we’re focused on how the NHL starts up and gets back to work, the return of the CHL could be particularly interesting as well and could factor into decision making. There’s also an issue of how the many changes in the forward group on the Leafs are made. Even so, it will come entirely down to training camp, but there is no doubt that Robertson his an exciting, potentially great prospect that we can look forward to on the Leafs in the coming years.