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Tenacity, scoring talents have Robertson in line for spot with Leafs one day

As of Saturday, Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson had 33 goals in 30 games with the Peterborough Petes.  (Steph Crosier/Postmedia Network)
As of Saturday, Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson had 33 goals in 30 games with the Peterborough Petes. (Steph Crosier/Postmedia Network)

Nick Robertson’s desire is a hallmark with the Peterborough Petes.

And you can be sure that Petes coach Rob Wilson loves that attribute in his star winger, one of several traits that helped make Robertson attractive to the Maple Leafs at the 2019 National Hockey League draft in Vancouver last June.

On the ice, Robertson wants the puck. Off the ice, well, Robertson doesn’t like to be idle.

“On a day off he will text me and ask me, ‘Is there any ice?’” Wilson said, “and I’ll say ‘No, I want you guys to have a day off today.’ He really wants to just keep going.”

When Robertson, the Leafs’ first pick in Vancouver at 53rd overall, was sent back to Peterborough last fall, the goal for the 18-year-old was to dominate the Ontario Hockey League. Playing on a line with fellow Leafs prospect Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and, more recently, new teammate and Canadian world junior hero Akil Thomas, Robertson has accomplished as much.

Despite missing chunks of the regular season — a broken finger in November put Robertson on the sideline for a month, and he then was absent when he was representing the United States at the world juniors — Robertson hasn’t let up on OHL goaltenders, scoring 33 times in 30 games heading into the Petes’ contest in Hamilton on Sunday.

“I’ve been producing a lot more this year and I think it’s all just confidence,” said Robertson, who scored 27 goals in 54 games last season. “I’ve been more confident after signing (with the Leafs last September) and playing at the world junior, which was a great experience for me.”

For Wilson, Robertson’s attitude throughout the season has been exemplary. We’ve seen the NHL-ready shot Robertson possesses and the way he can put the puck in areas where goalies aren’t expecting it to go.

That’s just part of it.

“The shot is unbelievable and he gets it away really quick, but it’s his tenacity that really catches my eye at times,” Wilson said. “I tell him he just needs to lead by his work ethic — he drives our team, even in the gym.”

The Petes are setting themselves up for a long run in the OHL playoffs, though the league-leading Ottawa 67’s are going to be the favourite coming out of the Eastern Conference.

Robertson, along with Der-Arguchintsev and Thomas, who scored the winning goal for Canada in the gold-medal game at the world junior, would love to spearhead a Petes charge.

Making a positive impression on the Leafs, of course, is a carrot for Robertson as well. With the Leafs’ depth at forward, Robertson knows the challenge that will come with eventually trying to earn a spot. It goes without saying that the hounding, puck-possession game in which he thrives is perfectly suited to what the Leafs are trying to establish.

“You never know what’s going to happen next year,” Robertson said. “The Leafs have had a coaching change and (Sheldon Keefe) is calling up players that maybe wouldn’t get a shot under (Mike) Babcock. Nothing against (Babcock), but they definitely have different minds.

“Whether the percentage is low or high, you always got a shot and you have to take it.”

Wilson peers into the future and doesn’t have to squint too hard. The player he can’t keep off the ice now, Wilson figures, will be an impactful Leaf one day.

“A lot has to happen,” Wilson said. “He is still a young guy but he will play because he is so determined to get there. His focus is ‘I want to play in the NHL and I want to play for the Leafs and I want to play tomorrow.’

“Nick is extremely driven. When NHL teams would ask me last year what I thought, I would tell them that he’s only going to get better because he’s so driven. He has been impressive this year and I’m not surprised.

“Whatever it’s going to take for him to get there, he’s going to do it.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com /koshtorontosun

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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