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Nick Robertson continues to get leapfrogged on the Leafs’ depth chart

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
21 days ago
Just when Nick Robertson thought he was going to get a longer leash and be cut some slack from Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, Mitch Marner returns to action and Robertson will now watch Saturday’s game from the press box.
Robertson had been playing better of late, forming an interesting third line alongside Matthew Knies and Pontus Holmberg, however, he’s been caught in a numbers game his entire tenure as a Maple Leaf and this most recent one could spell him waiting on a forward to go down with an injury before he gets back into the lineup. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs around the corner, it’s a tough position to be in for the 22-year-old former second-round pick.
Robertson’s just recently hit 82 career NHL games and now has played one full season, collecting 15 goals and 31 points. Not a bad rookie campaign for someone who played all 82 in one season. Crazy to say considering he’s been in the Leafs organization since 2019, however, injuries have played a major part in the storyline of his young career, but so too has Keefe’s trust in Robertson being a 200-foot player.
While he can shoot the puck with the best of them and has a great motor, Robertson’s lack of defensive awareness, inability to be physical, and not being an option to kill penalties have essentially given him a one-way ticket to the press box as a healthy scratch come playoff time. Unless the Maple Leafs don’t score a goal in their first two playoff games, it’s going to be tough for Robertson and his offensive mindset to get a sniff.

Resurgence of Reaves and Newcomers Don’t Help Robertson’s Case

While adding Connor Dewar ahead of the trade deadline was likely something that caught Robertson’s attention, Ryan Reaves has completely turned his season around, rediscovered his confidence and now seems like a lock to dress in Game 1 of the playoffs. Something that wasn’t even on the radar two months into the season as Leafs fans were wondering what Treliving was thinking giving the 37-year-old enforcer a three-year contract.
There are a ton of storylines to follow once the playoffs begin and with the top three lines basically set once Calle Jarnkrok returns, it’s kind of funny how much attention the fourth line is getting and will continue to receive heading into the postseason. Treliving’s done a great job to create internal competition and unfortunately, right now, it’s a competition where Robertson is lagging behind.
While the likes of Reaves and Dewar are certainly going to be hard to overcome on the depth chart, it’s Robertson who needs to look in the mirror. Any way you slice it, eye test or whichever stat you love to hold on to, his inability to be effective in his own zone and taking care of the puck causes Keefe’s hair to turn even more grey and leads to Robertson not being trusted enough by the coaching staff to stick in the lineup.
After both Robertson and Bobby McMann have played 51 games, Robertson has more points, but it’s McMann’s ability to be physical and defensively sound that keeps him out front on the depth chart. And while Robertson is thought of as the more offensive weapon, he’s actually trailing McMann and even Dewar when it comes to expected goals this season. Robertson sits dead last in the 25th spot for the Leafs when it comes to % of shifts starting in the defensive zone, again trust issues. He also has more than double the amount of defensive zone giveaways as McMann and Dewar, any way you shape it, the numbers aren’t adding up in Robertson’s favour.

Change of Scenery Coming?

While trade rumours are hard to come by with two weeks before the postseason, considering several variables surrounding Robertson’s future, I am leaning towards him being traded this offseason. I could see Robertson’s agent approaching Treliving asking for a change of scenery as the way the Maple Leafs’ lineup is constructed and with Domi and Bertuzzi likely sticking around, Robertson would be better served in a different environment with more opportunities.
Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten are coming, which doesn’t help Robertson’s case. McMann signed a three-year extension, that doesn’t help either. Robertson’s best suited on a second line, receiving power-play time and playing for a coach who can handle a turnover or two in his end, allowing for the growing pains to seep through. Right now Keefe doesn’t have that option, he’s coaching for his job and it’s become quite obvious he doesn’t trust Robertson enough on both sides of the puck.
If the Maple Leafs’ offence goes missing in a couple of weeks, when the games matter most, everything could change and Robertson has shown he’ll be ready when called upon.

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