Nicholas Robertson will make his NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, FS-O, NHL.TV).
The 18-year-old forward had one assist in a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens in an exhibition game at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.
“I believe he’s prepared and ready for it and that’s why we’re confident in putting him in,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Throughout camp there’s been a lot of attention on Nick, and for good reason, there’s a lot of reason to be excited about it.
“I talked to him today and said the Montreal game was a good step for him to get some good experience, but I reminded that it’s going to be a lot harder starting Sunday and he’s got to be prepared for that. We’re anxious to see how he can handle that.”
Robertson was the youngest (18 years, 320 days) of the 736 players on NHL rosters for the Qualifiers and he will become the first 18-year-old to play in an NHL postseason game since Jarome Iginla for the Calgary Flames on April 21, 1996.
Robertson played left wing on a line with center Alexander Kerfoot and right wing Kasperi Kapanen against the Canadiens on Tuesday and continued practicing in that spot throughout the week.
“My confidence level is getting higher and higher each day. Getting thrown in with good players during camp definitely helped my comfort level,” Robertson said Wednesday. “Getting to know the guys off the ice, too, definitely helps on the ice. I’m learning a lot from the guys and am asking them a lot of questions, which definitely helps me. The expectations are probably high because everything is a lot better than what I was exposed to at the junior level. Playing junior, you never know what your caliber is as an 18-year-old. Going through the exhibition game proved to myself that I can keep up.”
Robertson was selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 53) of the 2019 NHL Draft. He led the Ontario Hockey League with 55 goals in 46 games for Peterborough this season. He scored five points (two goals, three assists) in five games for the United States at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Keefe said Robertson’s ability to forecheck and pursue the puck is what earned him an opportunity to play in Game 1.
“The big thing we’ve seen with him throughout training camp is the way he’s been able to work, his work habits and the way he skates and the way he’s been on top of the puck,” Keefe said. “What we’ve said all along with him is that he’s a guy with a great skill set who can, that if he gets an opportunity, he can make a difference offensively.”
He will become the first 18-year-old to play for Toronto since Luke Schenn in 2008.
The Maple Leafs are seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets are seeded ninth. The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the loser will have a chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Aug. 10.
Mitchell Marner said Robertson’s performance throughout training camp caught the attention of the players.
“It speaks for itself. The whole camp he’s been great and competitive. He’s done a lot of great things to show management in this League and play in this kind of tournament,” Marner said. “As teammates, we just want guys on that ice who are competitive and want to win games, and throughout this training camp he’s shown that he’s got both those in him. Hopefully he brings a little kick to our team and a boost with his energy.”