We’re still a long ways away from any current Maple Leafs hitting the ice, but a few prospects have already gotten a head start.
Nicholas Robertson, the Leafs’ most recent 2nd round selection, took the ice yesterday with his American teammates to take on the Finns in the World Junior Summer Showcase.
Robertson, wearing #14, skated on a line with LA Kings prospect, Arthur Kaliyev at right-wing, and usually Islanders prospect, Blade Jenkins (or sometimes Anaheim first-rounder, Trevor Zegras) in the middle. Kaliyev is a player that Robertson is quite familiar with; they both play in the same conference in the OHL, they were linemates at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last August for Team USA, and they were linemates at the CHL Top Prospects Game last season.
Here’s a quick summary of how he did yesterday along with my thoughts on his performance:
In the first period, Robertson scored an absolute beauty of a shot off the rush:
Nick Robertson scores for USA White on the PP. Play starts with a nice gap & close by Wilde in D zone. 1-0 USA White #WJSS pic.twitter.com/ibrC6i6VbG
— Joey Battaino (@joeybattaino) July 27, 2019
Robertson goes into the 10-2 skating stance here while picking up the puck, something that I hadn’t really seen him do much before yesterday. He then quickly resets his feet and rifles a shot blocker side to open the scoring at the tournament, with a very quick release and a heavy shot that beats Annunen to his right. It’s a really nice little dish from Zegras there too, who tends to do things like that often. If he plays a lot with a creative playmaking centre in Peterborough (I think I know of one, who is also quite popular in Leafs Nation), I could see Robertson score a ton of goals next season in the OHL.
He gets his shot off so quickly, and it’s so heavy that you can hear it.
He also set up Arthur Kaliyev for a nice chance, but it was stopped by the Finnish netminder:
Robertson was playing with a lot of energy all game long, winning races to pucks and engaging in a ton of puck battles. He does seem to be, at least, slightly faster than he was last season, which is a positive sign. Robertson was getting very involved in the cycle and got to the front of the net numerous times, and although he did not score for the remainder of the game, he was creating more chances for himself.
Robertson’s hands also stood out a lot to me, as he was able to deke around opponents and in tight spaces multiple times. Here’s an example of all of the above in one shift from yesterday:
Robertson’s transition game was also strong, as it always tends to be. When Robertson has the puck on his stick, he’s looking to maintain possession for his team. If that means he has to send a sneaky pass back to a defenceman rather than try to deke through three opposing players (which he is also capable of doing), he’ll do it. If that means he has to hold onto the puck for an extra second instead of rushing a pass, he’ll do it. If that mean’s he has to send a tricky long pass to a teammate up the ice, that’s also a route he can and will take.
Robertson is a player that will always be strong at driving puck possession, which I think is a trait that the Leafs really seem to value in prospects (and in players in general).
It was evident to me that the coach feels comfortable with Robertson on the ice, too. His line received a few extra shifts and Robertson was even out there with under a minute to go when the USA found themselves down by a goal. This is important, as the reason for why Robertson and all of these prospects are at the tournament, to begin with, is that they are trying to make their nation’s World Juniors squad.
The American brass putting faith in Robertson undoubtedly is a good sign for his chances as of right now.
Robertson had two point-blank chances to tie the game with under a minute to go, but he was robbed by the Finnish netminder Annunen, who played a very solid game. Here is one of the chances:
Robertson’s next game is tomorrow at 4 pm EST against Sweden. You can watch on HockeyTV. This will be the last game before Team USA makes cuts and gets down to one team (they are currently icing two teams: Team White and Team Blue. Robertson is on Team White).
Let’s hope for more good things for Robertson tomorrow.