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Robertson's adjustment to NHL pace, intensity continues as Leafs get deeper into camp

Nicholas Robertson takes part in drills during the third day of Maple Leafs training camp on Wednesday.
Nicholas Robertson takes part in drills during the third day of Maple Leafs training camp on Wednesday.

Nick Robertson knows he needs to get with the program.

The 18-year-old rookie is confident that’s going to happen as Maple Leafs training camp progresses.

It’s not as though Robertson has been out of sorts through the first three days of on-ice workouts at the Ford Performance Centre.

The adjustment to the National Hockey League, however, even in the middle of July after players have been idle for months in the midst of the coronavirus global pandemic, continues for the Leafs’ 2019 second-round pick.

“The pace and the intensity is a lot more different than the OHL,” Robertson said on Wednesday in his first media availability since camp started, “and definitely is something I’m not really used to yet. I know as these days go by I’m going to get used to it, but I’m still trying to find my own (way) here and trying to get comfortable.”

This was to be expected, never mind that Robertson is coming off a 55-goal season with the Peterborough Petes and that Robertson arrived in Toronto in time for the early days of Phase 2.

The mantra from Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe hasn’t wavered: Robertson has to earn his spot on the Leafs roster for the qualifying round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a best-of-five that is slated to start on Aug. 2. A role among the forwards won’t simply be handed to Robertson at the expense of Pierre Engvall or Frederik Gauthier or anyone else.

During a scrimmage on Wednesday, and after getting a brief look on the Leafs’ top power-play unit on Tuesday, Robertson skated on the left wing on a Team Andersen line with Nic Petan and Egor Korshkov. Petan scored a couple of goals, and while Robertson didn’t score, he was able to create offence at times and recover defensively after turnovers.

While the Petan line usually matched against a trio of depth players in Kenny Agostino, Adam Brooks and Denis Malgin, there were instances when Robertson was on the ice against John Tavares’ line or Auston Matthews’ group.

The Leafs aren’t giving Robertson a free pass.

“So much has been thrown at me,” Robertson said. “A lot of curveballs, a lot of stuff I didn’t really expect, but I’m trying to adapt.”

Such as?

“Little details,” Robertson said. “You can have a lot of skill but you have to think and you have to work within the system and find ways to take advantage of not only your skill but your mind.

“The speed and the intelligence of the players … there is a lot of stuff you can get away with in junior and now everyone’s a lot smarter and they’re experienced and it’s an eye-opener for me.”

Camp is short, but Keefe has patience.

“He looks like a guy that’s finding his way and he’s not the only one,” Keefe said of Robertson. “There’s lots of eyes and attention on him, but there’s other guys who are trying to find their way. He’s a guy who not only is coming out of the same pause that everybody else has had, but he’s also trying to adjust to a new league, a new level, a new environment.

“It’s a little bit harder for him in that sense. We’re going to give him more time to adapt and see whether he’s an option for us as we get going into the playoffs.”

Robertson has been lauded time and again for his determination and preparedness.

Rob Wilson, the coach of the Petes, told us in March that Robertson will play in the NHL. What gave Wilson that confidence?

“He will play because he demands it of himself,” Wilson said. “He does not stop working.”

The Leafs are not scheduled to practise on Thursday. Once they return to the ice on Friday, count on Robertson’s will to continue to guide him as he works his way into serious roster consideration.

“The only thing I control is my work ethic,” Robertson said. “That’s what has to separate me from others. As the week goes by, I think I’ll get more comfortable. I think I’m going to catch on pretty quick.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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