The answer to this question varies greatly based on who you ask. Some have Robertson playing with Matthews or Tavares. Others have Nick Robertson returning to the OHL for one more season of overripening. And pretty much everywhere in between. The landing spot for Robertson is incredibly difficult to predict, but there are two competing forces that make it harder.
Leafs wing Depth
The Leafs have no shortage of NHL capable wingers.
|Wingers excluding Robertson|
|Wingers||Centers that also play wing|
So assuming that Matthews, Tavares, and Thornton will occupy three of the four center positions, that leaves nine spaces for 13 forwards, excluding Robertson.
Of course, based on his abilities there’s more than a strong case for Robertson being ahead of some of those players. He might not have any sort of NHL resume to speak of, but the reality is his OHL resume, combined with a strong training camp might make him hard to ignore as an option for the top nine group. I can’t imagine the Leafs have much interest in bringing him along if he’s going to be a 4th liner, but we’ll see.
Now here’s the part where I bore you with a projected lineup card…
That’s already a pretty stacked forward group without finding a home for Robertson this year. Heck, there isn’t space for Anderson or Engvall either, so there’s going to be a lot of people waiting for injuries/illness to get their chance to play.
Hearing some Ontario Hockey League teams are telling players they don’t expect to open training camps until mid-January at the earliest. Even that’s far from a certainty.
OHL has publicly said it hopes to start season Dec. 1.
— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) October 23, 2020
If and when there will be an OHL season poses an interesting situation for a player like Robertson. The plus side is the World Junior Championships are forging ahead and that may be some guaranteed hockey for Robertson, even before the NHL starts up again, but if the NHL isn’t in the cards for him, the OHL not being an option might actually serve as the best case scenario.
If there isn’t an obligation to put Robertson into junior hockey, he may be eligible to play on the Marlies, which is a much better situation than fast tracking him to the Leafs, or sending him back to junior to needlessly dominate. Even a brief window of AHL time before making a decision if he’s NHL or OHL bound would be huge as while the OHL might be the best alternative for Robertson, it seems like we’re just asking for more of the same rather than seeing significant development leaps.
Of course, there’s also a chance that the OHL doesn’t see the AHL as an option while they wait for their league to start (if it starts) and Robertson might remain in limbo, in which case the Leafs are probably best to find a spot for him in the NHL as soon as possible.
The expanded roster idea
Perhaps the compromise we can all expect to see. If there’s an AHL or OHL season or not, we might be looking at expanded rosters for the NHL. How that will work in conjunction with the salary cap will remain to be seen, but if the NHL is allowing for an expanded taxi squad, Robertson could easily remain with the larger Leafs group, at least giving him access to the team’s coaches and development staff. We’d also likely see a fair bit of Robertson, even if he’s not an everyday player.
The expanded roster idea may not actually come to light, if the AHL teams will be travelling with their NHL teams (as suggested by Chris Johnston), and rosters are still viewed as separate. Robertson would still need to be either a NHLer or OHLer, and would loose the luxury of being a tweener.
Training camp answers a lot of questions
Look, I know it’s October, and when training camp opens in TBD, we’ll get a lot more clarity. There is a likelihood that Robertson easily makes the Leafs and the conversation shifts to whether Barabanov makes the Leafs or whether Jimmy Vesey gets claimed off of waivers. There’s a chance we still see trades from the Leafs that eliminate some of the log jam, but from an organization perspective, the log jam is a good thing, and I don’t think they want it to go anywhere. They just need to know where their prospects will play and right now Nick Robertson is an important piece to figure out.