Robertson keeps sticking around with Maple Leafs
Published:July 22, 2020
Updated:July 22, 2020 8:59 PM EDT
- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFSAfter being away so long, Leafs getting their routine fix
- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFSKOSHAN: Notes and observations from the midway point of Leafs training camp
- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFSKeefe not worried that pucks regularly getting past Andersen in Leafs scrimmages
- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS Hyman’s status not abundantly clear, but Leafs coach Keefe not overly concerned
Can the “wild card” find his way on to the lineup card?
You’ll hear nothing but superlatives from the Maple Leaf players about Nick Robertson, who praise the energy he has brought to camp as one of the first in the room and on the ice, the element of dash he adds to third liners Kasperi Kapanen and Alex Kerfoot, and a quick shot, even if it is a bit off target at times.
But the rank and file don’t determine the final roster. That’s coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas, and as much as they’ve featured the teen all week in the top nine forwards, the last two days in place of left winger Pierre Engvall, it’s not a done deal Robertson starts Game 1 a week Sunday against Columbus.
“Nick is the wild card in terms of what he can bring and how quickly he can adapt and adjust,” Keefe said Wednesday, following a late afternoon practice and scrimmage. “We have to be able to give him those opportunities to be able to see how quickly we can get him up to speed. I’ve seen some positive steps, for sure. Early on it was a little bit slower, but it seems the more experience and opportunity we’ve given him, he’s done well with it.”
Keefe did note Robertson’s hot shot, which produced 55 goals for the Peterborough Petes last year, has been muted here somewhat by bigger defencemen and forwards getting sticks and bodies in his way, not to mention the big-league goalies.
“The difference is that the soft spots are a lot tighter here and harder to find because gaps close that much quicker,” Keefe said. “You’re dealing with the best of the best in the NHL and in the last while here we’ve moved him up to be playing against a lot of our best and with some of our best, giving him that feel.”
Robertson was stopped by Jack Campbell on a penalty shot in Wednesday’s scrimmage game, in which no one scored in one intense stop-time period.
Jason Spezza reminisced about his first playoff action being the 2003 Eastern Conference final with the Ottawa Senators and what Robertson could inject here.
“I Black Aced the whole way through, came in for Games 5, 6 and 7, gave the team a little bit of jolt and created some excitement. A guy like Nick can do that. When you’re younger, you stay in the fight a little longer, you’re waiting for that moment and when you do, you’re really playing with house money and that’s what Nick probably has a chance to do for us.
“It’s great to have his enthusiasm. It’s helped drive camp and create competition which we like. He’s put himself in a good spot to show he can keep up.”
The Blue Jackets have hinted about line juggling themselves, to employ more speed into their physical, defence-oriented lineup and take a page from the Leafs’ book. Thus it’s incumbent on Toronto to play better defence and not fall into the thought process they can score their way out of trouble.
“Entering a playoff series, you want to be completely prepared for an opponent, understand what they do well, and try to counter that,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “(But) you have to just kind of be who you are. If our teams looks around the room, we have to stick to our strengths.”
Mitch Marner will be among those shadowed relentlessly, especially when the Jackets have last line change in Games 3 and 4, if the best of five is extended.
“We have to be aware that they thrive off of turnovers and mistakes,” Marner said. “As a unit (he’s currently with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman) we’ve talked about when the opportunity is there to make make a play, but not forcing anything and letting them live off the rush.”
PARTY AT AUSTON’S HOUSE
As expected, the offensively stacked Team Matthews won the best-of-five ‘House Divided’ series, though it took a John Tavares goal in overtime to eliminate goalie Frederick Andersen’s team in Game 4.
Keefe was please that both sides were back to playing a better brand of defence. The fifth game will be played Thursday anyway, designed to closely replicate an actual match with an eye to Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens.
“Some of the execution perhaps wasn’t great, but the effort, pace and all those things were really good,” Keefe said of Wednesday. “The score stayed close, the benches were into it, there was some good energy that way and the goaltending on both sides was terrific, which allowed everything to be competitive. We got a lot of what we were hoping to get out of it today.”
Before the scrimmage, defenceman Justin Holl was cut in the face and needed stitches. Keefe thinks he’ll be able to practice Thursday … Winger Andreas Johnsson, the only injured Leaf, came out to skate and test his surgically repaired knee, though Keefe has no time line for his return … Spezza, an old-school suit-and-tie man on game days, figures he’ll fall in with the majority of those planning a relaxed wardrobe with no dress code in the NHL bubble when the Leafs and seven other teams check in this Sunday. But he predicts if the Leafs win a game or two that the young stars who are planning some eye-catching threads for TV cameras will not want to change them, hockey players being a superstitious lot … Kapanen says hockey is “heading in the right direction” with allowing its players to show some fashion style and maybe win some new, younger fans. “The young guys like to be flashy, Willy (Nylander) and Matty, and let’s see if Mo (Rielly) comes up with something. The eyes are on all on us in Toronto and we can set an example that way. as long as it’s nothing too outrageous” … Kapanen has also come up with the Instagram nickname ‘Smash Bro’s’ for he and fourth liner Kyle Clifford. the Finn saying the former L.A. King has become an inspirational figure in a short while as a Leaf. “He’s had a great influence on the whole team. He’s a tough guy who works hard, been around the league a long time and won a couple of Cups. You see a guy play hard and fight every now and then it fires me up.”