For all the on-ice struggles the Toronto Maple Leafs have endured this season, off the ice the management team led by general manager Kyle Dubas has done quite a creative and admirable job. That’s especially true in recent NHL Entry Drafts. The 2019 Entry Draft in Vancouver was no exception.
The team faced the draft without a first-round choice; however, Dubas added six young prospects to the Maple Leafs’ pool of talent during the draft. And early returns suggest that the organization chose wisely. Dubas also pulled off some necessary moves to address the salary-cap issues the franchise had faced.
Specifically, between the first and the second round of the draft, Dubas traded veteran forward Patrick Marleau, a conditional first-round draft pick in the 2020 or 2021 drafts, and a seventh-round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Carolina’s sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft. By doing so, he gave up draft picks for valuable salary-cap space (it was either move Marleau’s $6.5-million cap hit or not sign Mitch Marner).
In a value-out and value-in transaction, it was short-term pain for long-term gain. And, as tough as that move might have been to make, it seems that Marner’s 2019-20 season has proved to be a wise investment.
Drafting Nick Robertson
Without a first-round choice, at the 2019 Entry Draft Dubas chose then-17-year-old Nicholas Robertson during the second round (at 53rd overall). Robertson came into the draft having averaged over a point-a-game with the Peterborough Petes during the 2018-19 season (scoring 27 goals and 55 points in 54 games). And, he didn’t slow down this season. In fact, he had an amazing season with the Peterborough Petes scoring 50 goals.
In an interesting backstory, Robertson had made a Maple Leafs connection with the team when he was young – although it wasn’t a Toronto connection when he made it. Growing up in a bedroom suburb of Detroit (he’s from Northville, Michigan) when former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock coached the Red Wings, Robertson once upon a time in his youth learned that coach Babcock lived in the neighborhood and actually trick-or-treated at Babock’s Detroit-area home wearing his hockey gear.
On the ice, Robertson is a smaller player, but he’s shown fans he has both an on-ice creative flair and a highly-competitive edge to his personality. When asked about his size, and that’s a question that many have asked him, he never shrugs it off. Instead, he answers the question directly.
When interviewed in June at the draft, he likened his play to then Maple Leafs player Trevor Moore – who’s a feisty sort – and called Moore a comparable player to himself. Robertson stated:
“I don’t think it’s a factor at all. Trevor Moore, he’s a guy from California, he’s not the biggest guy but you see how effective he was in playoffs. He’s a skilled player, I think the tenacity makes up for my size as well as my skill.”
Robertson Scores 50 Goals with the Petes
The on-ice events the past season suggest that the Maple Leafs were wise to draft Robertson with their first selection. Now 18 years old and in his third season with the Petes, he’s become a goal-scoring machine. His hat trick against the Barrie Colts on Mar. 1 made him the first Canadian major junior hockey player to score 50 goals this season. And he did it in a shortened season.
In addition, Robertson’s three goals during that game made him the first Peterborough player to score 50 goals in 28 seasons. The last players who had accomplished the feat both played during the 1992-93 season: Jason Dawe scored 58 goals in 59 regular-season games and Mike Harding scored 54 goals in 66 regular-season games. As amazing is that Robertson needed only 43 games to reach the 50-goal mark. He’s quick in every aspect of the game.
In addition, injury-wise, Robertson didn’t have an easy season. He missed games this season recovering from a broken finger that he suffered during November. He also missed games because he represented the United States at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship that ended in early January. In short: big goal numbers, small game numbers.
In Summary: It Was a Great Season for Robertson
In summary, it seems that someone in the Maple Leafs organization can assess talent. As a goal-scoring forward, Robertson was so prolific that there were only nine games this season where he didn’t score a goal. He scored multiple goals in 14 games, and he had a 14-game goal-scoring streak from Jan. 9 to Feb. 8.
Obviously, he might be ready for prime time with the Maple Leafs; however, Nick Robertson looks as if he will be wearing a Maple Leafs’ uniform sometime soon.
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