Nick Robertson: The Maple Leafs deadline trade bait

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
James Reeve
5 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs need to shake up this roster, so could forward Nick Robertson be a part of that by the trade deadline?
The 2023-24 season has not been particularly memorable for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have seen stars such as Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander perform at a truly elite level, while the majority of the rest of the roster have been inconsistent, which has been reflected in the team’s results thus far.
At the 50-game mark, the Leafs sit fourth in the Atlantic Division with a 26-16-8 record (60 points) with a 5-5-0 record over their past ten games, compounded by a disappointing 5-3 loss to the division’s bottom-ranked Ottawa Senators.
Things are not quite working in general manager Brad Treliving’s first year with the team, and some serious changes need to be made in order to get this team back on the right track and in a far more consistent and competitive position by the time the playoffs roll around.
While the team is capable of scoring goals at the top end, with Matthews (42), Nylander (25), and Mitch Marner (22) all leading the way, further down the roster has struggled to make an impact, and the team’s woes in the defensive zone have been well documented all season – despite some positive performances in net by Joseph Woll and Martin Jones in particular.
A trade is needed to breathe new life into this roster, and one young forward could be an asset that helps the team land a player or two that can have a bigger impact in the short term and help the Leafs make a more convincing push toward the playoffs and potentially beyond.

Robertson’s Journey

There have been high expectations for Nick Robertson ever since he was selected in the second round (53rd overall) in the 2019 Draft, where he had registered 55 points (27 goals, 28 assists) in 54 points with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League during his draft year.
The following year, Robertson exploded at the junior level, scoring 55 goals and putting up 86 points in just 46 games with the Petes, with many viewing his accelerated development as a huge positive for the Leafs, who looked to have landed an absolute steal in the second round the year prior.
Robertson was brought up to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of that season, where he scored a goal in four playoff appearances for the team. Things were looking bright.
He registered 16 points in 21 games with the Toronto Marlies to start the 2020-21 campaign and even featured in six games with the Leafs, registering his first regular-season point (an assist). During the shortened season, he jumped between the minors and largely the Leafs’ taxi squad, with hopes of some more stability the following year.
After being a point-per-game through 28 regular season appearances with the Toronto Marlies, Robertson was called up by the Leafs and featured in ten games, scoring his first NHL regular season goal, before being ruled out for the rest of the year with injury.
The following year saw Robertson start to find his feet in the NHL with five points (two goals, three assists) in 15 games with the Leafs, but once again Robertson was sidelined with a significant injury for the rest of the campaign.
Injuries have been the story of Nick Robertson so far in his career, but this season he has finally had an extended period of playing time with the Leafs. After once again showing he’s too good for the AHL with 11 points in nine games, Robertson has now played 32 games for the Leafs – the longest run in the NHL so far in his fledgling career.
He has started to pick up the offensive side of his game too, with 15 points in those games, including seven goals. But is it enough for the Leafs to see him as a cornerstone piece of the future, or could he be floated in trade talks as being something other teams might covet?

Trade Bait?

TSN recently released their Trade Bait list ahead of this year’s March 8th trade deadline. While not viewed as one of the top players likely to be available, Robertson did round out the list at #40, being the only Maple Leaf to make an appearance.
There’s plenty of reasons to believe that Robertson would attract interest from other teams around the league. Over a full 82-game season, Robertson’s current pace would see him hit around the 38-point mark. Not stellar, but being so young and with plenty of room to grow, the upside could certainly intrigue teams looking to retool or rebuild, with Robertson’s prime fitting in with a number of team trajectories.
He is shooting 14.3% this year, which is a solid number, and if he were to be given a larger role on another team, above his current average of just over ten minutes a game, there’s a genuine chance that he could increase his production and become a regular contributor at the NHL level.
Add to that the fact that Robertson is still just 22 years old, and is an impending RFA with a current cap hit of $796,667, then there’s plenty of room for him in most team’s cap space for the foreseeable future.
The Leafs are certainly looking to upgrade, predominantly in the defensive end, and having an asset such as Robertson could give them what they need in terms of a return. He could be part of a package that lands the team a top-four defenceman, or even two solid players who can contribute immediately, and if there’s term on their deals then that would be an even greater addition.
Robertson has struggled to truly cement his place in the Leafs line-up and has been a healthy scratch at times this season, so a change of scenery could very well be what he needs in order to get his career firmly on track and see his production increased with a larger amount of responsibility.
He is too good for the AHL, and his development would stagnate if he were to be sent back down again, but he needs to be playing significant minutes in the NHL to truly realise his potential. Teams such as the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes, both of whom have interesting defensive players for the Leafs in Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, and Mat Dumba, could be interested in adding a promising young forward that could have an immediate impact.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it will really come down to the team’s greatest needs and whether or not Treliving receives enough of an incentive to part ways with Robertson, who has finally started to show signs of what he is capable of in the NHL and could do with more time and more minutes to truly elevate his game to the level initially expected of him.
If Treliving feels the need to win now is more important than that, however, then Robertson would certainly be at the very top of any potential trade talks from a Leafs perspective, with the likes of Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten all looking exceptional in juniors and likely looking to claim NHL roster spots next season.
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