“I need Nick to be himself”: Why keeping Nick Robertson in the Maple Leafs lineup makes sense

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
Sheldon Keefe is sometimes prone to overthinking things. This is not one of those times and making the decision to keep Nick Robertson in the Leafs lineup at the expense of a functioning 4th line makes sense.
Sheldon Keefe shared in the above quote Connor Dewar has been doing everything you can ask of him. He’s been doing everything that has been asked of him and the fourth line has primarily kept the puck in the Bruins’ end and limited chances against. Late in Game 3 the Leafs’ fourth line was out against the top Bruins line and did a solid job of keeping them tied up in the neutral zone and paying the price physically. That’s what you want from that group.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges for the Leafs this series is goal scoring and for the Leafs the path to goal scoring goes through Nick Robertson and being able to get Nick out on the ice with fresh legs in an offensive zone start makes sense. I get the “why mess with a good thing?” philosophy, but when that good thing is a fourth line or a bottom pairing, I’m not sure it applies as the Leafs need to try something that will yield better results than they’ve achieved so far this series.
That gives Toronto a fourth line of Nick Robertson – David Kampf – Ryan Reaves. That isn’t so much a line as it is a collection of spare parts and don’t think that isn’t by design.
David Kampf has already been pulling a lot of extra work taking shifts away from Pontus Holmberg and it is unlikely that will change. It also seems likely that he could be performing a similar service for John Tavares or even having both Tavares and Kampf on the ice, sitting Knies when the Leafs want the second line to take a defensive zone faceoff. Kampf’s ability to add some defensive responsibility to the top three units as needed is his value. Even if the Leafs want Matthews to take a defensive zone faceoff, Kampf is a great option to replace Domi until the puck moves up the ice.
The spare parts approach also allows for the Leafs to pick and choose when to utilize Ryan Reaves’ momentum shifting antics. While Reaves has primarily been stapled to his fellow fourth liners so far in the series, it is possible the Leafs go with a line with a similar vibe by playing Reaves with Knies and Kampf from time to time in order to give Robertson a spin with the Tavares and Marner duo, or Jarnkrok could be added to the fourth line for a shift to give Robertson a spin with Nylander. The name of the game is flexibility.
Flexibility will be most important when it comes to Nick Robertson, a player who is far more likely to see selective usage on the 2nd and 3rd lines than a ton of time with Kampf and Reaves. Robertson isn’t going to see a ton of icetime but he owns a speedy pair of skates that can become beneficial later in the game and on long stretches between whistles. Being able to deploy Robertson to overload a line offensively or force the Bruins to skate a bit more is what he brings to the table and you’d hope he’d also bring some work on the second powerplay unit, but that remains to be seen.
Robertson has also seen a lot of time with Holmberg throughout the series and given that Keefe likes to play Kampf up in the lineup, having Robertson handy to play with Holmberg when he slides down makes sense. It also seems likely to prepare the kid line of Knies-Holmberg-Robertson getting some looks if Keefe continues his practice of playing Nylander up with Tavares and Marner.
It is entirely possible that the lineup might take on a different look later in the game based on the score and Robertson could be there as part of a plan to use something resembling the late season deployment.
Line blenders have a poor reputation but if you are planning to make in game adjustments, as Keefe appears to be doing, the Leafs lineup card makes a lot of sense with Robertson in, even if Dewar seems deserving of being there too.

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