Friday Future Stars: Can Nick Robertson make his case for the Leafs playoff lineup card?

Let’s start with the obvious, Nick Robertson will be attending the Leafs camp this summer to get some reps with a team he has a realistic possibility of making next season. There isn’t any expectation that Robertson will be part of the Leafs playoff picture especially with Ilya Mikheyev being healthy, and the very real possibility of Andreas Johnsson being available if the Leafs go beyond the initial play-in round against Columbus. There isn’t any shortage of wing depth and as it is Denis Malgin is probably a permanent fixture in the press box when hockey starts back up.

That being said, it’s hard not to be excited about a prospect like Nick Robertson, who has recently been named the CHL Sportsman of the year, named to the first all-star team of the OHL, and was named the MVP of the Peteborough Petes for his impressive 55 goal campaign. There’s not a lot left for Robertson to do at the junior hockey level, and if that momentum didn’t fizzle out after the pause button was hit, and he’s ready to take a leap forward this summer, Robertson could be a fun secret weapon for the Leafs in the playoffs.

Trying to slot Robertson in is the interesting challenge though. Even if he does put on a stellar showing in training camp, and plays beyond a number of other forwards, there is no situation where he’s leapfrogging Nylander, Marner, Hyman, Kapanen, or Mikheyev for roles. Then depending on how Spezza, Kerfoot, and Engvall will be used, either as centers or wings, it seems unlikely Robertson would be moved ahead of them, nor can he replace the specific role that Kyle Clifford has been brought in to perform. In short, Robertson would need 2 of 3 of Spezza, Kerfoot, and Engvall to take center roles on the Leafs, Johnsson to not be ready yet, and for Gauthier and Malgin to be press box bound for a spot in the lineup to be open. That’s also assuming that someone like Agostino doesn’t also get a priority look at the spot.

The drawback to Robertson being added to the lineup are reasonable considerations in some regards. He hasn’t played games with this group yet. He’s young and small, and it would be throwing him to the wolves, etc., etc. Though the appeal of putting in dynamic offensive player in a sheltered role, and knowing that other teams haven’t had a chance to do meaningful scouting on him is a much more friendly narrative, and perhaps one that deserves consideration as well.

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A sheltered four line looking to produce offense featuring Spezza, Robertson, and Clifford could be a solid follow up to a more defensively responsible third line. Of course there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t still pull this idea off with someone else instead of Robertson, but Robertson represents untapped upside rather than results we’d expect from someone we’ve seen. When it comes to the playoffs, and the fourth line, I’m all for the mystery box, and that’s why it would be nice to see Robertson play his way on, even if that seems to be next to impossible.