TORONTO — It’s one thing to get your ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment in the middle of a global pandemic.
For Nick Robertson, the call-up from the Toronto Maple Leafs also comes at a time when he’s gone more than two months without putting on skates. That unthinkably long stretch should end at some point next week once he finishes serving a 14-day quarantine and the Leafs officially reopen their training facility for small-group workouts, but on the surface these don’t seem like ideal circumstances to put your best foot forward.
“We’ll see when I get back on the ice,” Robertson said Wednesday. “Maybe I’ve forgotten how to skate.”
He was kidding, of course, and perhaps the best explanation for why he’s one of seven or eight players now being considered for inclusion on the Leafs’ expanded playoff roster is because Robertson believes he’s made gains since a 55-goal season with the Peterborough Petes came to a screeching halt in March.
The 18-year-old returned home to Sierra Madre, Calif., when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and started adding some much-needed muscle mass to his five-foot-nine frame. He worked out with brother Jason, a Dallas Stars prospect, and started taking the intensity to a whole other level last month when Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas tabbed him to be ready for a potential NHL restart.
That extra training, plus his breakthrough campaign in the Ontario Hockey League, are sources of confidence for Robertson. He doesn’t see any resemblance between the player he is today and the one who lasted 72 hours before being sent home from Leafs training camp in September.
“I think that I’ve enhanced a lot of my off-ice performance now which can help me with my on-ice,” said Robertson. “Overall I think I’m ready. We’ll see what the coaching staff and what Toronto wants, but just personally — mentally and physically — I think I’m there.
“We’ll see as it goes.”
The short visit to Newfoundland for training camp still proved fruitful since it resulted in Robertson signing an entry-level contract and gaining access to the kind of resources he could only dream of before getting drafted 53rd overall last June.
He estimates that he’s exchanged more than 100 texts with Leafs nutritionist Margaret Hughes, often sending her pictures of his meals for feedback or picking her brain about supplements. He also routinely reaches out to the organization’s strength coaches and has sent video of every different type of exercise he’s doing during quarantine.
“I think they kind of heard from me more than they wanted to,” said Robertson. “I don’t doubt they get annoyed with me.”
Perhaps, but it also helped put him in position to get his NHL opportunity a little sooner than expected.