Maple Leafs might have something special with the Knies-Holmberg-Robertson line

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
19 days ago
Sometimes injuries force your hand and you discover that you’ve been sitting on an asset the entire time. Domi next to Matthews, the emergence of McMann and Benoit, and now it seems like the Knies-Holmberg-Robertson has the making of being an exciting bottom six option that could be a difference maker come playoff time.
RELATED: Nick Robertson is making his case to be in the Leafs’ Game 1 lineup
The Leafs have been in an interesting situation this season when it comes to all three of Knies, Holmberg, and Robertson.
Knies has been a much hyped rookie that at times had success in a role on the top line with Matthews and Marner. A lot of Knies’ scoresheet success is owed to that line but over the course of the season there has also been an acknowledgement that offensively Knies just isn’t ready to keep up to two of the top scoring forwards in the NHL. While his forechecking presence added value, the Leafs were right to move on and explore ways of tapping greater offence that could come from the Leafs top duo.
The result for Knies is that he was left trying to find a fit elsewhere in the lineup and that simply wasn’t happening. There wasn’t a strong fit with Tavares, who would have been the next most obvious centre, and while Domi was an okay option, moving on from Domi as a centre was in the Leafs best interest and left Knies again looking for his best fit.
Holmberg, like Knies, had a short run of success on the top line with Matthews and Marner. Their praise for Holmberg’s skill is the review that has helped keep Holmberg in the lineup and Holmberg’s 200 foot game fit well with the Leafs top line.
Like Knies, Holmberg just isn’t able to consistently be “that guy” offensively for the Leafs top line and with the Leafs desperately wanting to move on from Domi as a centre, Holmberg was the obvious option, although Sheldon Keefe was been very conservative in his deployment of Holmberg for much of the season and often put him with linemates like Gregor and Reaves that just aren’t a fit for the centre is still fighting to show that he’s in the lineup to stay.
That brings us to Nick Robertson, who is a pretty well documented case for the Leafs. Robertson as an undersized, shoot first player that has little to offer defensively has been a bit of a square peg for Sheldon Keefes’ round hole lineup. Robertson is a tough sell for the Maple Leafs top six as he’s too much of a liability to play with Tavares and not at all what Keefe has believed the top line needs. He’s fit with Domi when Max was at centre but that duo had to be sheltered into oblivion and created some hard to watch defensive zone moments this season. The Leafs need Robertson’s secondary scoring but have struggled to find a situation where he could play with talented enough players to create opportunities for him but have linemates and competition suited to his defensive shortcomings.
Enter what is more or less the Leafs kid line. Knies-Holmberg-Robertson together seem to balance out a lot of the shortcomings and allow each other to benefit from their strengths. Holmberg is getting the opportunity to centre linemates that can keep up with him throughout the rink, Robertson has linemates who are offensively talented enough to get him the puck at the right times, and Knies’ forechecking ability comes in handy with a centre who can cycle the puck and another winger who can hammer the puck towards the net for Knies to go looking for garbage.
Being able to play this line primarily against bottom six competition also means that the defensive abilities of Knies and Holmberg will often be facing competition they can handle in that regard. They won’t be overly exposed, but they can take a regular shift, and both are capable enough that if they are caught out there against top line opposition, they shouldn’t be written off as defenders either.
Over the past three games the trio has been pretty even in on ice shot metrics which certainly doesn’t paint this as the greatest line ever formed, but they have outscored their opposition 5v5, which is exactly what you want to see from a bottom six group. There is also something to be said for this group as a potential playoff 4th line, which in reality is how Sheldon Keefe is going to utilize them, the Kampf line being far more likely to see tougher competition, especially when you’d have to assume Kampf’s line as a potential landing spot for Jarnkrok and whomever gets bounced out of the top six when Marner returns.
While the “kid” line on its own has plenty to offer, the Leafs having Knies and Robertson as fresh legged options for the second powerplay unit is a plus, as is potentially tapping into Holmberg as a penalty killer. Holmberg or Knies being able to take shifts for players like Domi or Nylander on defensive zone faceoffs is a plus, and Robertson’s depth offence is built for coming out in the playoffs when refs sit on their whistles for long stretches or a speedy offensive weapon is needed in the second overtime and beyond (the Petr Klima 1990 Stanley Cup goal will forever be used to make the depth scorer point).
The Leafs seem to have something worth sticking with over the remaining nine games of the season to see if it can be an effective line. As the Leafs potentially want to rest their stars either in the press box or reduce their minutes in game, it is an opportunity to push this trio to see just want kind of situations they can handle and the fact that they’ll get a couple of looks at the Panthers is a plus.
As for what this means for the rest of the bottom six, at this point it’s hard to make a case that Connor Dewar, Noah Gregor, or Ryan Reaves have shown the Leafs something that makes a case for putting them into a healthy Leafs lineup over this line. Dewar’s penalty kill usage and the desire for more hitting might ultimately get them in, but for Game 1, I like the Holmberg line.

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