Next weekend the Leafs will be playing in playoff games. Call it the “play-ins” or “play-downs” or whatever, but for all intents and purposes, when Toronto goes up against Columbus on August 1st, they’re in do or die mode. Lose 3 of 5 and go home. It’s as important as any other postseason matchup they’ve been in over the last four years.
And here is 18-year-old Nick Robertson, with just ten days until these all-important games get going, taking reps with the Leafs’ main group — looking more and more like a regular part of the lineup.
This isn’t really the way it was supposed to be. If you could plot out the development curve for a typical 2nd round pick, you’d think a year back in the junior ranks followed by a year or two with the Marlies would be the standard path. But for all the ways we’ve struggled with handling the hype around Robertson and his 55-goal OHL season this past winter, it’s looking like he’s going to play games for the Leafs this summer. Otherwise, what are we doing here? This isn’t a regular season training camp with 50 bodies, there’s no amount of time to try things out for the sake of trying them out, or just “getting a look” here or there. The battle Robertson finds himself in, taking ice-time away from guys like Pierre Engvall or Dennis Malgin, is playing out in a time when things are as serious as they can be. That the third line is in flux like this with so little time left before the games get going says, at the very least, if Robertson doesn’t see a ton of meaningful minutes in this playoff run, he’s a true lock for the team in (what we suspect will be) January’s open of the next season.
Nick Robertson’s release 🤤 pic.twitter.com/vkC1QhX14A
— juno (@junotheleafs) July 18, 2020
But what is it that’s put Robertson on this trajectory, even just within this camp? Kristen Shilton of TSN believes the difference is in how his confidence has grown as the practices and scrimmages have moved along, and with that comes the flashiness Robertson is capable of, something Engvall in particular isn’t really able to exhibit.
With Robertson, the difference is, he just works so hard and he can be very dynamic. And when he plays with confidence, which I didn’t really think he had in the first couple of days of camp, what he can do with the puck; He’s not afraid to try the same things as Mitch Marner — he’s not afraid to pass it to you behind the back or between the legs. He’s not afraid to make those kinds of moves, and even if they don’t work he seems to drive confidence from it and think “No, I can play with these guys, I can be on that level” and the more that he’s done that, the better he’s looked…He’s a sponge, and the more information and votes of confidence he’s gotten from others, it has really changed the way he’s looked on the ice.
The hesitation certainly seems to be leaving Robertson’s game, and of course that’s crucial. To bring it back to Marner, another player with all the flashy skill and an absurd scoring touch coming out of junior, he was another player who seemed to be shot out of a cannon in his second camp with the Leafs. Robertson’s breakout camp has come within the strangest of times, but don’t let that strangeness fool you, in some fashion he’s with the team to stay from here on out.