Nick Robertson's goal of making Leafs keeps him from world juniors

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson scores his first career NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Robertson is the first 18-year old to score a playoff goal for the Maple Leafs since Ted Kennedy on March 28, 1944.

Nick Robertson’s goal of winning a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs will keep him from participating at the upcoming world junior tournament.

The 19-year-old forward wasn’t included in Team USA’s roster selections on Saturday because the event is likely going to conflict with Leafs' training camp. The NHL team told USA Hockey weeks ago that Robertson’s loan availability was tied to the timing of the 2020-21 season, and the league is now aiming for camps opening Jan. 3 and games starting Jan. 13.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Robertson would have to serve a seven-day quarantine after flying back from the tournament in Edmonton. With the world junior gold-medal game scheduled for Jan. 5, it could keep him unavailable to the Leafs for the entirety of camp.

Robertson played four playoff games for Toronto inside the summer bubble, but will have to battle for a roster spot. He’s remained in Canada since May -- keeping the California native apart from his family -- in order to have the best chance of doing that after an off-season where the Leafs added six forwards in free agency, including veterans Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Jimmy Vesey.

“I’m preparing mentally. I know the Leafs signed a lot of guys and everything like that, but I’m pretty confident in myself,” Robertson told Sportsnet last month. “I hope I do good and I’m confident I will, but depending on how long camp is I don’t think they’re going to judge who is going to be on the squad through that day. It’s also going to be pre-season. I don’t know how many pre-season games there are, but maybe even in the regular season that’s still a tryout, too.

“You never know if they’re going to give you a few games in the regular season and then go from there. You know every day is kind of a tryout for me, too, I guess you could say.”

The 2019 second-round pick represented the U.S. at last year’s world junior tournament, putting up five points in five games. Despite the disappointment of a 1-0 loss to Finland in the quarter-finals, he looks back on it as a positive experience.

“That’s the fastest hockey I’ve ever played,” he said.

Robertson added that he felt that this year’s team would have a strong chance to compete for a gold medal.

However, like other top teenagers Jack Hughes (U.S./New Jersey), Alexis Lafrenière (Canada/N.Y. Rangers) and Moritz Seider (Germany/Detroit), he’ll be watching from afar and preparing for the NHL season.

Even though the league and NHL Players’ Association continue to hammer away at the protocols and scheduling for the 2020-21 year, there’s hope that things could happen quickly. In the meantime, Robertson will continue to work out of the Leafs training facility, where he’s grown more comfortable with teammates over the last few months.

“I’m trying to find every adjustment I can make to help myself going into the NHL and having a smoother transition,” he said. “Obviously training here with the Leafs in Toronto and getting familiar even with just the city in general and getting to the rink and everything has helped me a lot and building relationships with players is definitely comforting.

“When I’m comfortable around the guys, I’m sure I’ll play at my best.”

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