Last summer, Nick Robertson had one goal in mind — to make it to the NHL.
But on October 17th, his plans changed.
It was the second game of the season and the Toronto Marlies were taking on the Manitoba Moose.
During the second period, Robertson went in for a puck along the boards. He was sandwiched between two players and went down to the ice, landing awkwardly on his right leg.
Here’s another look at Nick Robertson’s injury: pic.twitter.com/uRniSTVgQl
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) October 17, 2021
A few days later, it was announced that Robertson suffered a fracture of his right fibula. He would be out for a minimum of ten weeks.
“When it happened it was devastating, I couldn’t kind of believe it.” Robertson said. “I worked so hard in the summer, I felt good going into the season, and for it to happen that way, it was unfortunate.”
The 20-year-old was ready to make this season his own. He was ready to take the next step.
“It was a tough situation. Obviously, I want to play in the NHL, get called up. If I would’ve maybe been healthy, an opportunity would’ve came along,” said Robertson. “It’s the past and I’m just looking forward to playing and being healthy and producing and doing well.”
After suffering the injury, the 20-year-old was tasked with a different battle — recovery.
“It wasn’t bad,” Robertson said of the rehab process. “I was definitely limited to a lot of stuff, especially stuff at the house. But fortunately, I had family and friends come down to help me out.
“But the whole process was longer than I thought,” Robertson admitted. “I had the hard cast, then the soft boot and what not, and all my dates were, kind of, up in the air. I thought it was six weeks, turned into eight, then into ten. But it went by fast and now I’m feeling pretty good and trying to get back to where I was before.”
Robertson has a work ethic unlike many professional hockey players. He’s always working, whether that be watching video, being on the ice, or in the weight room. After his first full-contact practice with the Marlies post-injury, Robertson said he was ready to get back to work the day after he was injured.
Earlier this season, Robertson’s teammate, Alex Steeves, was entering his first pro season after recovering from an injury. In a similar position to Robertson, Steeves said he wanted to come in and “dominate,” which he did.
Robertson has the same mindset.
“It’s the same thing,” said the 20-year-old. “When I see guys do well and producing, I want to come back and do the same thing. My goal is to get called up, obviously, and the opportunity has to open up for itself, but as long as I’m here I gotta produce and gotta play well.”
In Robertson’s second game back, he scored two goals. One of which is the reason why he’s such a highly touted prospect.
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) February 5, 2022
After this game, I asked his junior teammate, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev if he’s ever surprised by Robertson’s shot.
“No,” said Der-Arguchintsev, “Nick always had a good shot. It was a nice rip by him.”
Robertson scored this goal while playing on the right-wing, which is something he hasn’t done until now on the Marlies.
“It worked well last game. I mean, I had a couple goals and felt good.” The 20-year-old said of playing on the right side. “I’m still getting used to it, but it’s nothing new. I think, you know, if I’m a left-wing or right-winger, it doesn’t make a difference, I have to adapt either way.”
The 20-year-old joined the AHL during an abnormal season. With many of the full-time AHL players on NHL taxi squads last year, there was room for prospects to stand out a little bit.
Robertson suffered a number of injuries last season, too, but in the games he played, he noticed some differences between the OHL and AHL.
“Definitely more physical, bigger guys, stronger guys, and definitely time’s limited,” Robertson said of the differences between the two leagues. “I think for me to be successful here, is literally simplify my game, and then when I get my chances in the o-zone, do what I do, which is shoot.
“It’s a good challenge for me to build my game for the NHL.”
Robertson has had his sights on the NHL for a long time. But he’s gotten a closer look since his brother, Jason Robertson, got into the league last season. Robertson had incredible rookie season in the NHL, where he finished in second for Calder Trophy voting.
This year, the 22-year-old is averaging over a point-per-game and is almost doing the same over the span of his NHL career.
“It’s amazing,” said Robertson of his brother’s NHL career. “It gives me confidence in myself, too, cause everything he’s done to this point is literally everything I’ve done. We train together in the summer and obviously I’m coming back from an injury, and who knows where I would’ve been if I didn’t get hurt.
“So, it’s very good to see him like that. I think it just, being his brother, it’s exciting to see. I try to watch as many games and learn off of him. It definitely gives me motivation to, you know, kind of do ‘If he can do it, I can do it’ kind of, cause he’s my brother.”
Playing with the Marlies, though, Robertson has plenty of familiar faces. During his time in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes, he played with Der-Arguchintsev, and for a short time, Pavel Gogolev.
Robertson has spent a good portion of his Marlies career alongside his OHL teammate, SDA.
“It’s really good,” Robertson said of his relationship with Der-Arguchintsev. “We always hang around, joke around. I think the most things we joke about is just inside jokes in Peterborough or here. And we know Gogo [Pavel Gogolev] too, so he’s been around us. So, we’ve got a good little group there. But Sem’s a great guy, I’ve known him since I was 16 and our relationship now, compared to at 16 is a lot better and he’s just a great guy to be around with, and it’s especially good to have a relationship with a guy off the ice to translate on the ice.”
When Robertson takes in warmups for the Marlies, he’s always the final player off the ice. SDA filled that role while the 20-year-old was injured.
Now, he’s back, and he’s still the final player off the ice.
“That’s just a superstition,” Robertson said with a smile. “I just like being last on the ice. It’s a little thing I get to do before a game. I did it here but the NHL level I don’t even screw around with that.”
Robertson spoke a lot about getting to the NHL during my interview with him. And while the 20-year-old is on the cusp of getting there, he knows there’s more work that needs to be done.
But what does that work look like to him?
“First of all, I want to play all the games. That’s my biggest goal is to be healthy.” Robertson said. “I want to produce. I think I’ve learned enough now to, kind of, go on and be the player I want to be and I think last game was a good indication, especially after my second game being hurt on the impact I can have. Obviously, up and down games, but I want to be as consistent as possible these next games and produce and do everything I can to get to the NHL or open up the opportunity for myself.”
When Marlies head coach Greg Moore is asked about Robertson, he always has a big grin on his face. Playing pro hockey, Moore understands the grind and what it takes to get to the ultimate goal.
And Moore, like the rest of the Maple Leafs organization and its fans, are curious to see what the 20-year-old does when fully healthy.
“For how long he’s been out, it was a great a start for him coming back into the group. It’ll be interesting as the season goes on, where he takes it next.”