While the NHL was still in the midst of negotiating a plan for the 2020-2021 season with the players’ union, top Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson was named to USA’s preliminary roster for the World Junior Championships. That selection always carried the caveat that if NHL training camps were scheduled to get underway before the tournament could be completed, Robertson would be made unavailable to team USA so that he could be a full participant in Toronto’s training camp.
It appears as though that is going to be the case with Bob McKenzie reporting today that though it isn’t official yet, the American squad could be without Robertson for the annual holiday tournament.
Interesting situation developing that may — nothing is official quite yet — mean Team 🇺🇸 could be without Nick Robertson (TOR) for the WJC.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 11, 2020
McKenzie went on to say that the Leafs would like to have Robertson representing his country at the World Juniors but their top priority is to give him the best opportunity to make Toronto’s roster out of training camp. If the NHL holds true to the reported target date of January 13th to begin the season, teams would presumably be opening their training camps in late December or early January. With the WJC gold medal game only scheduled for January 5th, that overlap wouldn’t allow Robertson to participate in the Leafs’ camp due to various quarantines and COVID protocols that he would be subject to upon completion of the tournament.
The Leafs don’t feel comfortable penciling Robertson into their forward group without having him compete for a spot in camp, and after he already had a strong showing at last year’s tournament, the best thing for Robertson’s development is likely being at Toronto’s camp competing against other NHLers for spot on the opening night roster.
Back in July, the Leafs stayed true to their word that they would give Robertson every opportunity to make the team for the NHL’s return to play and he took advantage of it. Through his first four games of NHL action, he had moments where he looked overmatched and some junior habits crept into his game, but he also showed flashes of the offensive ability and tenacity that have the Leafs so high on him as a prospect. Deciding to have the young sniper competing in training camp, rather than making him available for the WJC where he was sure to be one of the stars of the tournament, likely means that Sheldon Keefe and the rest of the Leafs staff once again plan to put Robertson in a position to make the NHL roster.
Robertson has remained in Toronto this week rather than joining the rest of USA’s preliminary roster in Plymouth. He has cleared all WJC testing protocols and is eligible to join the American team in Edmonton this weekend but Team USA will have to make a decision soon, and can’t afford to wait knowing that the Leafs’ clear preference is to have Robertson at their NHL camp.
After a breakout season in junior and an impressive performance for a disappointing American squad at last year’s World Juniors, Robertson was always going to crack their roster again this season if he was available. The question now becomes whether he will be able to crack the Leafs’ roster in what is sure to be a competitive forward group.