TORONTO — Nicholas Robertson was perhaps destined to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Long before the 17-year-old forward was selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 53) of the 2019 NHL Draft, he was trick-or-treating one Halloween in Northville, Michigan, where his family moved after he was born in Arcadia, California. It happened to be in the neighborhood where Toronto coach Mike Babcock, then coach of the Detroit Red Wings, lived.
Robertson, wearing a Red Wings jersey with Pavel Datsyuk’s No. 13 on the back, was determined to find Babcock.
“I was running around to all the houses asking, ‘Are you Babcock?’ Finally I got him and now my goal one day is for him not to give me candy, but to give me shifts,” Robertson said.
Robertson attended his first Maple Leafs development camp in June after he had 55 points (27 goals, 28 points) in 54 games last season with Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He loves hockey, wants to talk about it all the time,” Toronto senior director of player development Scott Pellerin said. “He’s really engaged, and that’s the type of player we’re excited to work with, someone who wants to learn and get better.
“He’s really determined. His engine is going, he wants to go hard all the time, but that’s good because it’s easier to turn that down than turn it up.”
The feeling is mutual for Robertson (5-foot-9, 162 pounds).
“After the NHL [Scouting] Combine, I told my dad Toronto is where I wanted to go to,” he said. “I’d rather be a 53rd pick than be a late first-round pick because Toronto is the best spot out of any organization in the NHL to develop. It’s the best city and best fans and I’m so happy to be part of it.
“My mindset in training camp will be to give it all I’ve got; you never know what happens. If I go back to junior, I want to be a leader, help the rookies and guys going through their draft year, and be even more of a reliable player than I was last year. I want to win really bad.”
Robertson has been a fighter ever since he was born three months premature on Sept. 11, 2001. He was given three injections at birth to try to save his life, and doctors told his father, Hugh, a fourth could work but could also put his son’s life at risk. They took the chance and it succeeded, but Robertson stayed more than two months in the hospital before finally going home.
“My dad believes what happened shaped me into who I am, and that story will always be with me,” Robertson said. “It defines how I play on the ice and why you see me smiling. I don’t think you’ll ever see me in a bad mood and I think that’s because I’m very grateful to be here because, who knows? if I didn’t take that shot, I probably wouldn’t be here.”