Nick Robertson has been a focal point of the Leafs Prospect Roundup over the last few weeks, and with his performance this past week, we may not be discussing him as a “prospect” for much longer.
With the Leafs off to a sputtering start through four games and the clouds of controversy starting to roll in, Robertson took the place of Denis Malgin on the second line alongside John Tavares and William Nylander and wasted little time announcing his arrival. Though it was only the fifth game of the campaign, it felt like the Leafs needed to get back in the win column, and it was Robertson who led the charge against his big brother and the rest of the Dallas Stars.
The game was tied early in the third period when Robertson took a hit along the wall to get the puck down low before darting toward the net and taking a slick return feed from Michael Bunting. He made no mistake, burying the puck far side against Scott Wedgewood for his first tally of the season. Robertson’s shot and finishing ability have never been in question, but it was his strong play along the boards and ability to play through traffic that created the scoring chance – attributes that will help him become a consistent NHL producer.
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Robertson wasn’t done there, however. The Stars tied it up shortly afterward and eventually forced overtime, setting the stage for Robertson to put an exclamation point on his stellar season debut. Credit to head coach Sheldon Keefe who recognized that his young sniper was feeling it and gave him a chance in crunch time.
Keefe was likely holding his breath when he saw Robertson as the last man back defending an odd-man rush in the extra frame, but he rewarded his coach’s faith in a big way. First, he stuck with an attacking Jamie Benn and recovered to make a great stick check and start play the other way. Robertson then found a trailing Auston Matthews on the rush, opened himself up to a shooting position, and wired the return pass into the back of the net for the game-winner. That the best goalscorer on the planet had a chance to fire from the slot in overtime and instead deferred to Robertson says something on its own.
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On top of scoring two huge goals, Robertson finished with three hits, four shots on goal, and led the Leafs with a 70.1 xGF% in 14:24 of ice time. There are sure to be ups and downs for Toronto’s first pick in the 2019 draft as he embarks on what is essentially his rookie season, but he made a statement in his debut and looks to have arrived as an NHLer.

Fraser Minten | C/W | Kamloops (WHL)

Minten made a good impression at his first NHL training camp after the Leafs selected him 38th overall this past summer but unfortunately had his camp cut short by a wrist injury. After rehabbing his injury in Toronto, he returned to his junior club in Kamloops and made his debut in their eighth game of the season.
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Wearing an “A” as he will for all of the Blazers’ home games this season, Minten lined up on the left side of a line centered by reigning CHL Player of the Year Logan Stankoven and made his mark early. His first point of the night came on a secondary assist after some nice work along the boards low in the offensive zone, and he added a primary helper on a third period powerplay off a nice shot pass into the slot. Minten got into the goal column, bringing the Blazers within one with a powerplay marker later in the period, but it wasn’t enough.
Minten shifted back to center on Saturday night, playing on the third line at even strength but still played just over 20 minutes after seeing over 25 minutes of action in his season debut. He added another assist to give him four points through his first two games and fired seven shots on goal in the contest.
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The Blazers were in action again on Sunday night against Vancouver, and Minten was back in the middle with Stankoven on his wing. He added his second goal in three games on a second period powerplay, wiring a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle.
Minten’s shot was already a strength, but he looks to have added some quickness to his release, which should help him get more pucks to the net from traffic areas in the offensive zone. It is never easy for a player to miss the beginning of a season, but Minten hit the ground running this past weekend and will look to keep it going when the Blazers take on Spokane on Friday.
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Matthew Knies | W | Minnesota (NCAA)

Knies was held off the scoresheet in Minnesota’s last two games against rival Minnesota State, and the Gophers were off last weekend, so he was anxious to get back on the ice, and it showed in his performance this past weekend against North Dakota.
He already had an assist in his back pocket when the puck came to him in UND’s zone in overtime. With the game on his stick, Knies made a quick cut around the defender, powered his way to the net, and tucked home the OT winner.
Knies also opened the scoring the following night to bring his season totals to four goals and two assists through six games, but the Gophers were the ones who ultimately fell in overtime in the rematch. Despite the split for his club, it was a strong weekend for Knies as his combination of offensive skill and heavy play was on full display.
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Knies set the bar high in his freshman season, rocketing up the Leafs’ prospect ranks in the process, but he has certainly met expectations through the early part of the season. He will have to maintain his strong play over the course of the season, but Knies is looking more and more like a player who can contribute to an NHL lineup in some capacity.

Notes from the rest of the prospect pool

  • What else is there to say about Ty Voit? He has been tearing the OHL apart through the early part of the season and added eight more points in three games this past week. With six goals and 15 assists in just 10 games, Voit is now four points clear of the OHL scoring lead.
  • Nick Moldenhauer picked up a pair of assists in the first of a two game set with Youngstown. He now has nine goals and four assists through 10 games with the Chicago Steel to start the season.
  • Topi Niemelä hasn’t been lighting up the scoresheet the way he did last season, but he scored his second goal of the campaign in a 4-3 OT win over HPK last week. His offensive zone start numbers are still high but they have come down slightly and he is still maintaining a 56.3 CF%.
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  • Alex Steeves continued his hot start to the season, scoring a pair of goals in Saturday’s 4-1 win before adding an assist in a losing effort on Sunday. After a strong showing in Leafs camp, he has four goals and two assists through his first four games with the Marlies this season. There are plenty of bodies battling it out for playing time in the Leafs’ bottom-six already but Steeves could force his way into that conversation if he keeps up his strong play.
  • Ineligible to play in the AHL after signing his ELC last spring, Nick Abruzzese is getting his feet wet with the Marlies this season. He was held pointless in his first two games but scored his first AHL goal on Saturday and picked up a nice assist on Sunday.
  • Ryan Tverberg continues to assert himself as a legitimate NHL prospect. He scored a goal on Friday and added two more in Saturday’s rematch against Boston University, bringing him to five goals and three assists through the first eight games of the season.
  • Nikita Grebyonkin was loaned to another organization after struggling to break into a strong Magnitogorsk lineup in the KHL, and after four games with their VHL affiliate in which he registered a goal and two assists, Amur called him up to their KHL club. He saw a career-high 14:47 of ice time in his debut with Amur and tallied two assists in his second outing on Sunday, playing over 21 minutes. The loan to Amur is already proving to be a great opportunity for Grebyonkin, and he is taking advantage early on.
  • 2022 seventh-rounder Brandon Lisowsky has hit his stride, scoring five goals in his last four games. He now has five goals and six assists in 11 games and is on pace to surpass his point total from last season.
  • An undrafted free agent signing last fall, Braeden Kressler has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries. He again missed time to begin this season and got into his first two games last week, netting a pair of goals and an assist. Kressler is a sparkplug of a player and has flashed increased offensive skill early on.
  • Artur Akhtyamov and Vyacheslav Peksa have been two of the best goalies in the VHL through the early part of the season. Akhtyamov’s latest performance was a 38 save, 2-1 win over SKA-Neva that brought his save percentage to .933 – good for third best among qualified goaltenders in the VHL. Peksa, meanwhile, is coming off a 35 save shutout that vaulted him into a tie for fourth among qualified goaltenders, ever so slightly behind Akhtyamov with a .932 SV%.
  • Dennis Hildeby has had a rough start to his season in the SHL but had a big bounce-back performance this past week, stopping 33 of 34 shots in a 5-1 win. It was just his third start in SHL competition this season, but it was by far his best outing, and he now owns a .894 SV%.
 
(Statistics from Evolving-Hockey.com, EliteProspects.com,
& Liiga.FI)