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Nick Robertson needs a multi-dimensional game if he wants to remain a Maple Leaf

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
17 days ago
Nick Robertson finally enjoyed a healthy season in 2023-24, but unfortunately due to some trust issues from his head coach, he only managed to appear in 56 regular season games. For Robertson to take a step forward next season, with Craig Berube behind the bench, he’ll need to fine-tune the ‘secondary’ parts of his game.
Robertson has had it rough since he joined the Maple Leafs, after being selected in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft. The fifth anniversary of joining the organization is coming this month, meanwhile, he’s only appeared in 87 career NHL games. This has been due to frequent injury troubles, and getting stuck in a numbers game out of training camp thanks to the salary cap. There’s also been a lack of defensive awareness that has made him an easier choice for healthy scratching.
The 22-year-old forward is known to be a goal scorer. He can shoot the puck with the best of them and create chances off the rush. His 5-foot-9 means there’s not much to his game in physicality aspects, and Robertson struggles to win puck battles. If he’s going to make a positive impression on Craig Berube, who loves to outwork and lean on opposing teams, Robertson’s going to need to find a way to be more tenacious on pucks and win battles, much like the Leafs have seen out of another young winger, Matthew Knies.

Robertson’s offence isn’t the issue

This past season, Robertson finished with 14 goals and 13 assists in 56 games. Which is over a 20-goal pace, and for a 22-year-old, that’s an impressive feat. The majority of his goals were scored on the left side of the ice or in the high-danger area right in front of the net.
His wrist shot is his calling card and he has one of the best on the team (although another California-born player on the Leafs might be more deserving.) Robertson is at his best when he’s getting into open space for the one-timer or using his straight-line speed to create space. This goal against the Florida Panthers, his 12th of the season, shows off the perfect display of Robertson’s speed and ability to finish, with a silky move past Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky:
14 goals in 56 games is solid production, and what makes it even more impressive is the fact Robertson averaged just over 11 minutes of ice time a night. This ranks him 15 of 17 Leafs’ forwards used last season, including being behind Connor Dewar, Noah Gregor, and even Fraser Minten, who played just four games with Toronto to start the season. Sheldon Keefe’s trust in Minten over Robertson in game situations emphasizes the importance of building a two-way game for Nick.

Consistent output and effort level vital for next step

Robertson found some chemistry this season playing alongside Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok, but unfortunately, Jarnkrok suffered a hand injury and ended up missing 17 games. Domi wound up playing on the top line with Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi, meanwhile, Robertson couldn’t seem to find a home.
While Keefe always joked about how when he healthy scratched the young forward, he came back and scored, which he did multiple times, this is where the joking around seemed to stop between the two. The ex-Maple Leafs bench boss grew frustrated with Robertson’s ability to take care of the puck in all three zones. He was on the ice for defensive-zone faceoffs just 3.9% of his shifts. He is ranked dead last in that category on the team of anyone who played more than one game with the Leafs last season. He was being protected by Keefe on the defensive side of the puck, and presumably Craig Berube won’t wish to do the same.
While the offensive output was strong with the 14 snipes, Robertson is going to need to find some consistency moving forward. He had multiple stretches last season being blanked off the scoresheet including a 14-game stretch which basically lasted the entire month of December.
Offense isn’t everything, especially under a Berube-coached team. The intense bench boss loves effort level, he wants the Leafs to never get outworked on either side of the puck and he wants his team to play for one another. 34 hits in 56 games won’t cut it, even if you’re 5’9” and 180 pounds. Robertson will need to work on his strength, on and off the puck this summer to ensure he’s lining himself up for success under new leadership. No more getting pushed around along the wall and being easily knocked off the puck. It’s as simple as that.

New relationship or new team?

A new head coach is a new slate and it’s likely a breath of fresh air for the former second-round pick, who couldn’t seem to establish himself under Sheldon Keefe. Berube has been making his rounds this offseason, getting to know each player at a one-on-one level and their relationship status has been activated.
Berube has the hard job of finding Robertson the perfect place to play in the Leafs’ lineup. With Tyler Bertuzzi potentially re-signing and Matthew Knies looking like a lock for the top six next season, He could once again be battling for ice time. Bobby McMann has a much bigger frame and also showed off his offensive capabilities with a break-out season in 2023-24, so Robertson also has McMann to battle for the third-line minutes. That’s not to mention top prospects Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan, who are going to try to do whatever they can at training camp to solidify their roles next season at the NHL level.
This is setting up to be quite the numbers game for Robertson once again. Even if he moves to right wing, which he’s done at times, at this moment, he’s still behind Marner, Nylander and Jarnkrok. He’s not taking faceoffs, so cross that one off the list.
Yes, there’s a decent chance the pending restricted free agent is included in Brad Treliving’s conversations this summer, nearing the draft and heading into free agency. The ‘everything is on the table’ mentality from management sent a clear message that the roster will be evaluated, Robertson included.
Needless to say, there’s a lot hanging in the balance when it comes to Robertson’s future as a Maple Leaf. He’s starting next season with a new coach and a chance to prove himself as a developing two-way 200-foot player. Regardless of how he plays, the numbers game could once again keep Robertson on the outside looking in. If Treliving anticipates that, perhaps a trade and change of scenery could be best for everyone involved.

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