Next Gen Prospects: Maple Leafs’ Nick Robertson excelling with Petes

Nick Robertson of the Peterborough Petes. (Luke Durda/OHL Images)

Family ties are important to Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson.

From his father Hugh, to mother Mercedes and four siblings, they don’t like to be separated. Between Nick and his brother Jason’s budding hockey careers, they’re limited to keeping in contact every day over the phone.

Nick Robertson says his family helped make him the happy and positive person he is today.

“I think my family shaped me into who I am and also the birth aspect also shaped me,” he said in a phone interview.

Shortly after Robertson was born three months pre-mature in September 2001, his father had a life-altering decision to make.

His son’s lungs weren’t opening up fully and two previous steroid shots weren’t doing the trick. Doctors gave Hugh one more option: try a medicine they didn’t know much about and possibly save his newborn or face potential death.

He went for it.

“Fortunately it worked out for the best and I think that shaped me to who I am as a person, just being happy and not taking anything for granted,” Robertson says.

“You never know what could have happened that day, where I would be now, but definitely grateful for the outcome.”

The Maple Leafs picked him in the second round of the 2019 draft and he’s spent this season prospering with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.

He entered weekend play with 19 goals, tying him for the most in the league. Add in nine assists and his 28 points have the left winger tied for sixth in OHL scoring.

Robertson credits his success this season to confidence and dealing with less stress than last year when he had the draft and rankings to worry about.

But he credits his life success to his family after a difficult first year as an infant. From the risky drug, being in intensive care for three months, contracting pneumonia and not being released from the hospital until U.S. Thanksgiving, there was a lot to deal with and overcome.

“I think it definitely kind of shaped me into the person I am,” Robertson said. “Just being versatile, being resilient and not really … not being affected by anything thrown at me.”

On the ice, Petes coach Rob Wilson expected the five-foot-nine, 164-pound Robertson to break out this season.

He says Robertson is the hardest worker in the gym, first and last off the ice and will shoot pucks until his arms fall off.

“If there is a kid in junior hockey and on any team that’s more focused than Nick, I’d love to meet him because I would say he’s probably the most focused kid that I’ve dealt with,” Wilson says.

Robertson was born in Pasadena, Calif., and moved to Michigan with his family when he was nine years old. The move meant he would be better showcased in hockey and his drives to the rink also decreased significantly from one hour in Los Angeles to 10 minutes.

“It wasn’t good on the way there because you wanted to sleep but on the way back it was close,” Robertson recalls.

When the second day of June’s draft in Vancouver came around, he had a feeling he was on the the Maple Leafs’ radar. He missed parts of five weeks in his draft year after tearing a ligament in his wrist, but still had 27 goals and 28 assists in 54 games.

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He calls the whole draft process “weird” and had hoped to be picked by Toronto.

Robertson is closest with his brother Jason, a Dallas Stars prospect, and says they often play video games with one another and live together in the summer.

“We talk about everything, basically. We’re literally two of the same people,” Robertson says. “We like the same things, we talk the same way, we joke around and stuff.”

Robertson’s on-ice success has caught the attention of USA Hockey, which invited him to its summer showcase. He feels he performed well at the event and has the World Junior Championship on his radar.

“When camp comes in December, I’m definitely going to try and prove myself and get a spot on the team,” he says. “Much closer to making it than I was in the summer when there was 40-plus guys.”

Wilson said Robertson’s determination is what sets him apart from other players and his tireless mentality rivals that of Maple Leafs captain John Tavares.

“I’m sure he will achieve his goals. There’s no respite with Nick,” Wilson says.

Here are 10 other prospects who have impressed of late:

Alexis Lafreniere (2020 NHL Draft eligible)
Current team: Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Stats: 18 GP | 12 G | 31 A | 43 PTS

It’s tough to ignore the season Lafreniere is having so for the Oceanic. He’s doing everything he can to show he’s the best player available to go No. 1 next spring at the draft.

Owen Tippett (FLA – 2017 1st round)
Current team: Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Stats: 13 GP | 6 G | 5 A | 11 PTS

After Tippett’s cup of tea in the NHL at the start of the 2017-18 season, he’s been working his way back ever since. Some thought there was a chance he’d start this year with Florida, but turns out that’s not the case. Instead, he’s almost a point per game player in the AHL.

Philip Tomasino (NSH – 2019 1st round)
Current team: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Stats: 18 GP | 10 G | 15 A | 25 PTS

Tomasino has carried the load for a weaker IceDogs team this season and showed why Nashville used its first round selection on him last June. He had a six-point night against Kingston in early October — three goals, three assists — but has been held scoreless in four-straight.

Cole Caufield (MTL – 2019 1st round)
Current team: Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Stats: 8 GP | 8 G | 3 A | 11 PTS

Caufield has kept the prospect spotlight on himself after a stellar start to his NCAA career where he leads the Division One circuit in goals through eight games.

Dustin Wolf (CGY – 2019 7th round)
Current team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Stats: 9-4-0 | 2.07 GAA | .938 SV%

Surprise, surprise. Wolf is once again leading the WHL in save percentage early on this season after finishing atop the category after the 2018-19 campaign. My colleague Mike Shulman wrote a feature on Wolf’s desire to prove his small stature won’t make or break him.

Thomas Bordeleau (2020 NHL Draft eligible)
Current team: U.S. NTDP
Stats: 14 GP | 8 G | 5 A | 13 PTS

The U.S. under-18 national team development program made history at last year’s NHL Draft with 17 players selected. Bordeleau, whose father Sébastien formerly played in the NHL, leads the way in scoring so far for the USNTDP this season.

Tyler Wall (NYR – 2016 6th round)
Current team: UMass-Lowell (NCAA)
Stats: 6-1-2 | 1.63 GAA | .946 SV%

Alexandar Georgiev may be the Rangers’ goaltender of the future, but Tyler Wall is showing positive signs of becoming another good prospect in net. The Leamington, Ont., native has one shutout in nine games this season in the NCAA with the seventh-best GAA and second-best save percentage.

Arthur Kaliyev (LAK – 2019 2nd round)
Current team: Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Stats: 18 GP | 19 G | 17 A | 36 PTS

Kaliyev is a goal-scoring machine this season and leads the OHL in scoring with 36 points while tying with Robertson atop the goals leaderboard. He posted a four-goal game against Erie in mid-October.

Nils Höglander (VAN – 2019 2nd round)
Current team: Rögle BK (SHL)
Stats: 12 GP | 3 G | 1 A | 4 PTS

Speaking of lacrosse-style goals, how about this one below from Höglander in the SHL. This is also an impressive feat as Höglander earned SHL goal of the year honours last season. He had a solid 2019 world juniors for Sweden despite being bounced from the tournament in the quarterfinals and could be a key winger for them this year in the Czech Republic.

Pavel Novak (2020 NHL Draft eligible)
Current team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Stats: 16 GP | 10 G | 10 A | 20 PTS

Novak is off to a strong start to his North American hockey career. He’s has six multi-point games and recorded his first career WHL hat trick last week for the 2020 Memorial Cup hosts.

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