The thing that Nick Robertson needs most is a full-time NHL gig and I think he’ll get that with the Maple Leafs next season.
After the 20-year-old returned from a four-month layoff due to injury, there was a different look to his game. Robertson seemed to be as confident as ever at a time when it just didn’t seem possible. Coming off an injury like a broken leg, there’s usually a period where a player is getting used to everything again.
Not Robertson, though.
The work that he and the Maple Leafs’ return-to-play staff did together allowed for Robertson to come back to the Marlies as good as ever. The 20-year-old averaged a point-per-game in his final 26 games of the season.
It wasn’t just the points that made Robertson stand out more this time around in the AHL. He seemed more confident with and without the puck, not forcing plays to come to him, but getting in better spots for better looks.
It also seemed like the 20-year-old got stronger on the puck while he was nursing his broken leg.
Robertson wasn’t getting pushed around as much as the prior season. It also seemed like he wasn’t afraid to throw his body around either, which is something we haven’t seen much of in the past.
“He did a really good job inserting himself right away,” said Marlies head coach Greg Moore. “I thought within his game, he always had his strong attributes. One thing he really elevated was his shot selection and choosing when and where to shoot the puck. There was a little bit more volume I thought last year, shooting from anywhere, which can be good at times given a situation and where he is on the ice.
“But, he was a lot more selective in getting into the right areas, possessing the puck or extending the possession to get those better looks, to get those higher quality chances, and I think it showed with his point production per-game.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Robertson’s stats was his goal-scoring and how much came at even-strength. Of his 16 goals this season, only four were either scored on the power play (3) or shorthanded (1).
Compare that to his final year in junior, where he scored 55 goals over the span of 46 games. Of those 55 goals he scored, 21 came from the power play and shorthanded.
You might argue that Robertson could’ve had more goals if he was given an opportunity on the Marlies’ first power play unit. However, it’s still promising that a lot of his scoring came at even-strength and not much anywhere else.
Looking ahead to next season, I believe the 20-year-old should get a full-time shot with the Maple Leafs. It might be that he entered professional hockey early, but it feels like he’s earned an extended showing and a spot in the lineup after training camp concludes this fall.
Where he would end up is an interesting question. If Ilya Mikheyev doesn’t return next season, which seems likely, Robertson might be a fit there. The 20-year-old played on both the left and right wings this year with the Marlies, so he’s capable of fitting wherever they need him.
There also shouldn’t be a problem with spending that little bit of time figuring out where Robertson belongs. I firmly believe it’s on the second or third line, either the left or right side, but bouncing him back and forth between the AHL and NHL isn’t going to help him either.
Obviously, the 20-year-old will decide where he fits come Maple Leafs’ training camp this fall. But his play this year with the Marlies offered a glimpse of what he might be able to be in the NHL.
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