How will Nick Robertson fit into Craig Berube’s system?

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Cruikshank
21 days ago
The 2023-24 season was an encouraging one for Nick Robertson, which makes things a little bit more complicated for the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.
After playing a combined 31 NHL games in his first three seasons with the Maple Leafs, the 22-year-old suited up for 56 regular season contests, finishing with 14 goals and 27 points while averaging just 11:23 of ice time — with almost no time spent on the power play. Robertson finished with the fourth-highest goals per-60 (1.32) behind only Bobby McMann, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews, proving he’s capable of being an impactful offensive contributor on this roster.
Despite his lack of production in the playoffs, Robertson still proved that he’s an everyday NHL-er, and that will likely be reflected in his upcoming contract as a pending RFA. Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving is probably going to be patient while evaluating Robertson’s fit in the lineup, as well as any possible offer sheets that could be sent, but it’s much more likely that they retain him for anywhere in the range of $1.4-$1.7 million.
The idea of moving on from Robertson at this point feels counter-intuitive for a team in the Maple Leafs’ position. With so much money allocated to the top-six, they need younger, cheaper players to provide offence, and there aren’t many guys with 40-50 point upside at Robertson’s projected price tag.
There are a lot of external factors that will affect how Robertson could be utilized under new head coach Craig Berube. With the uncertainty of Tyler Bertuzzi, the emergence of Bobby McMann, and even the possibility of Easton Cowan making the jump to the NHL next season, there are going to be some significant changes that could impact Robertson’s role. 
It’s difficult to guess what Berube’s thoughts or plans are for Robertson with so many potential changes, but one aspect of his game that will undeniably put him in a position to succeed is his compete level. ‘Compete’ can be an intangible factor for a lot of players, but for Robertson, it’s visible in his game. He processes offence at an extremely high pace, never gives up on pucks, and is willing to take on any role necessary to put his team in a position to win. 
This season was, for obvious reasons, a huge year for Robertson’s confidence. That confidence was evident in the way his best assets were displayed throughout the year. Robertson’s shot is remarkable, it’s his standout trait. He’s able to generate a ton of power, even in off-balance positions, which has allowed him to become a bigger threat from longer distances in the offensive zone. He also became more comfortable carrying the puck and navigating neutral zone traffic, developing more complex rush patterns for defenders to react too.
There’s not really a close one-to-one comparison of a player that Berube coached in St. Louis that can give us an idea of how a player with Robertson’s skillset will be deployed. Considering he’ll be playing for a coach that has historically demanded defensive responsibility out of his forwards, that will be a huge hurdle for Robertson to overcome in order to build trust and be relied on consistently.
His physical disadvantages have limited his ability to make an impact in defensive zone battles, and whether or not he can become a higher-end scorer enough to offset those limitations remains to be seen. For those reasons, he seems to have a similar ceiling to what he had under Sheldon Keefe last season, with the addition of being a mainstay on the second power play unit.
All of this plays into the biggest storyline surrounding Robertson heading into the 2024-25 season – finding an identity. Is he a scorer? Is he a playmaker? Is he a hard-nosed forechecker? One season of success at the NHL level is just that: one season! Sure, his distribution of minutes may limit his ability to carve out a more ambitious role for himself, but given his injury history and lack of consistency, those minutes need to be earned, and they’re definitely not guaranteed.

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