Bobby McMann’s injury might have opened the door for Nick Roberston to play in Game 1

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
10 days ago
It’s hard to think of a Toronto Maple Leafs player who’s gone through more ups and downs in his short tenure than Nick Robertson.
Drafted 53rd overall by the Leafs back in 2019, Robertson has battled just about everything a player trying to make a name for himself in the big leagues can handle. This includes multiple injuries, bouts of inconsistency, and a pandemic creating obstacles in his development at one point or another. In addition to this, you can also make the argument that he simply developed too quickly, to the point where the Leafs don’t really have the space to give him the ice time and trials he needs to develop into a consistent NHLer. Rasmus Sandin, who was a first-round pick of the team the year before, arguably suffered the same fate – and he’s now a member of the Washington Capitals. After the pandemic halted Robertson’s final junior season, it briefly looked like he was going to fast-track his path to the NHL when he was named to the Maple Leafs’ playoff roster for the 2020 Bubble play-in series. He even scored his first pro goal for the Leafs in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That notion was unfortunately halted by the injury bug the following year, and things would only get more difficult from there. Robertson suffered a major injury in each of his next three seasons – a knee injury in 2020-21, a broken leg in 2021-22, and a season-ending shoulder injury in 2022-23. He was cleared to play this past September, but once again had to work his way back into the lineup after a flurry of additions up front. He started the 2023-24 season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Toronto Marlies, promptly proved he was too good to be there with his five goals and 11 points in nine games, and earned a call-up to the NHL in early November. Things started off promising, with two goals and four points in his first four games, but then came the most recent battle – consistency.
For the first time in his career, Robertson has made it through an entire pro season without any major injuries, and although there have been bursts where he looks like he belongs, the 22-year-old’s lack of defensive game doesn’t do him any favours when it comes to keeping him in the lineup. He’s not in the Leafs’ top six when the roster is fully healthy, and can be rendered pretty much useless if he’s stuck on the fourth line with defensive-minded players, so that consistency offensively is needed to keep him in the lineup. After those first four games, he went the next 17 with only one goal and five points during that span. Then, he scored four goals and added another five points in his next seven games. After that? More of the same. One goal in his next 14 games. That brings us to the past 13 games, where he has six goals and seven points. You can see the trend here. He’ll have bouts where he’ll score goals in bunches, but on the flip side of that, he’s not doing enough on the other side of the puck to justify playing him every night, especially not when players like Bobby McMann have emerged and brought more on the defensive side of the game.
Here’s where there might be an opportunity for Robertson. McMann left the Leafs’ most recent game against the Detroit Red Wings with an injury, and head coach Sheldon Keefe later told the press following practice that he wouldn’t dress in the final two games of the regular season. Simultaneously, Robertson is on another one of his hot streaks, with four goals and five points in his past six games. You typically don’t want to look for silver linings when a player gets injured, but if Robertson wanted to play playoff games for this team, this might be the gateway to doing so.
McMann’s injury is serious enough that it’s not worth trying to get him into either of the Leafs’ last two games of the season, however, his status for Game 1 is still up in the air. If McMann isn’t ready to go by Saturday night when the Leafs will most likely play their first game, Robertson will almost certainly be the name called to take his place. The catch here, obviously is that he has to produce if he wants to stick in the lineup, and luckily for him, one of the Leafs’ most documented problems in the playoffs over the past few years has been depth-scoring and goals in timely moments. He won’t be out there killing penalties in the dying minutes of a game to preserve a win, but if he can turn his current hot streak into the norm in the playoffs, he has a real opportunity to start in the playoffs and keep his spot there. No depth player’s spot in the playoffs is eternally safe – if it becomes evident the Leafs are having trouble keeping the puck out of the net, he’ll likely come out in favour of somebody with more to bring defensively. But, if he keeps up his consistent production, he has an opportunity here to carve out a spot on the team and make Keefe’s lineup decisions a little easier.
The Leafs’ playoff opponent is unconfirmed as of the writing of this article, on Tuesday morning. It seems more likely that they’ll end up playing the Florida Panthers in Round 1, but a recent slide from the Boston Bruins has left the option of a rematch against one of arguably their biggest playoff demons entirely possible. Stay tuned.

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