BELLEVILLE, Ont. — Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe always knew Nick Robertson had it in him.
That’s why when the club had called up American forward in the past, they would often slot him in as a second-line left winger.
And while he didn’t produce the results they had been looking for in the past, Robertson made the most of his opportunity on Friday.
Placed on the top line alongside Pontus Holmberg and Denis Malgin, Robertson exploded for a pair of goals and an assist against in a 6-3 pre-season win against an Ottawa Senators club that dressed many of its star players.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence, not only from the game but from the practices, too,” Robertson said after the game.
Robertson opened the scoring by taking a centering feed from Denis Malgin. He had to reach back to make sure he controlled the pass before rifling a shot past Ottawa goaltender Anton Forsberg.
In the third period, Robertson’s initial shot helped set up a goal by Malgin that helped Toronto restore a two-goal lead.
Later in the third, Robertson’s second goal made it 5-2 Toronto.
By all accounts, this was the game Nick Robertson had to have. The Maple Leafs don’t want to keep Robertson around to play fourth-line minutes. And if he’s going to become an everyday NHL player, these games where he dominates with his scoring ability is what has become expected.
“We’ve been waiting for him to make an impact, offensively, at this level,” Keefe said after the game. “That’s what he does. That’s what he’s best at. It’s what he has a history of doing and you want to see him convert at a higher level.
“I think we’re starting to see that here in the pre-season but the games will get tougher and the games will get harder. The competition will get harder, but I can see the confidence growing in him daily.”
Robertson had a lackluster prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan a few weeks ago. He has since steadily improved with each day that has passed at Maple Leafs camp.
This year, the 21-year-old said that he added some weight during the off-season. Based on the way he played on Friday, it has not slowed him down.
The Maple Leafs have four pre-season games remaining and it’s expected Robertson will continue to be used in a prominent role as the club begins to narrow down its roster.
The first round of cuts are expected next week sometime after the club’s pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
Robertson has one goal and one assist in 16 NHL games. He also scored a goal during the 2020 NHL playoffs, around the time he made his debut in the league.
Given his ability to be sent up and down the roster without the risk of losing the player, Robertson will have to steadily improve as camp moves along.
But Friday was a step in the right direction and that’s the player the Leafs want on their roster.