It only took one game for Nick Robertson to prove he is ready to be the missing piece of the Leafs’ top six.
In his season debut, Robertson played 11:40 at 5v5, posting a 60 CF% and leading the Leafs with 64.92 xGF%. The 21-year-old left winger lined up beside John Tavares and William Nylander on the Leafs’ second line, which seemed to add a spark that the entire forward core had been missing.
From the start of the game against Dallas, Robertson came out flying, displaying more speed than what we have seen in the past. He showed a much better first-step burst of acceleration which helped him to win more puck battles and be an effective forechecker the entire game.
His tenacity was also noticeable when playing on the second unit of the powerplay. He is not afraid to shoot (something the Leafs can lack at times), and mixing this with his ability to find open scoring areas allowed him to get his first goal of the game and season.
So the question now is, what do the Leafs do moving forward regarding their forward lineup and, more specifically, Nick Robertson?
Well, let’s look at some facts first:
- Matt Murray is on LTIR for the foreseeable future, meaning his $4,687,500 cap hit does not count towards the Leafs’ salary cap, giving them much more flexibility than opening night.
- Timothy Liljegren is also on LTIR, but he should return by mid-November at max, meaning his $1,400,000 cap hit will come back into effect sooner rather than later.
- Jake Muzzin was just placed on the IR, but with the type of injuries he has had and the current injury at hand, do not be surprised if his $5,625,000 cap hit is also transferred to LTIR at some point.
- Robertson was sent down before opening night over Denis Malgin due to the difference in waiver exemption and the Leafs’ inability to carry extra skaters. However, now with more flexibility, the Leafs can have both on the roster and still be under the cap.
So with all of that in mind, here is what I think Robertson’s path looks like moving forward.
Until his play says otherwise, he should be a staple on that second line over Denis Malgin. Although Malgin did have a goal in the season opener and has posted solid results at 5v5 (57.83 CF% and 60.35 xG%), I think the Leafs should allow Robertson to prove himself with an extended run of play.
He has goal-scoring upside, he can be effective at even-strength or provide a shooting threat on the power play, and his straight-line speed is something the Leafs lack, especially on that second line. The obstacle he has to overcome is staying healthy, which has been his biggest issue thus far as a member of Toronto’s organization.
When Liljegren returns, the Leafs will have roster decisions to make (unless Muzzin does indeed move to LTIR), but I do not see any reason why Robertson should return to the AHL. His point-per-game pace last season and 16 goals in 28 games are more than enough to prove he deserves his shot at playing with the best of the best at the NHL level.
In terms of fantasy impact, Robertson is a huge asset in dynasty leagues if he wasn’t already and should be considered a serious option moving forward in re-draft leagues. He has value in goals, shots on goals, and powerplay points while also showing he may have some bangers value (three hits against Dallas).
His time is now, folks. Nick Robertson is an NHLer and could be what the Leafs need now more than ever. Make sure you don’t miss out.
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