Nick Robertson has got his reps in and he’s ready to go.
The 22-year-old winger arrived at Scotiabank Arena on Monday brimming with confidence after he was recalled from the Toronto Marlies.
With health on his side — a factor that has been an issue in the past several seasons for the California native — Robertson did what he was supposed to do after the Leafs sent him to the Marlies at the end of the pre-season.
Driven by his usual hustle and work ethic, Robertson led the Marlies in scoring through nine games, recording 11 points (five goals and six assists).
He will play on a line with Max Domi at centre and Calle Jarnkrok on the right wing on Monday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. In a corresponding move, the Leafs sent forward Pontus Holmberg to the Marlies.
“I would say I’m really confident now,” Robertson said after taking part in the optional morning skate. “I got my reps (with the Marlies). Last year, I played a couple games (in the minors in October) and played up here and was trying to find my confidence that way.
“I’m going in here with a lot of confidence, a lot more touches than last year. We’ll see how it goes.”
As the Leafs try to return to the win column — they’re riding a four-game losing streak and have not lost five in a row since April 12-20, 2021 — coach Sheldon Keefe will ensure that Robertson doesn’t put too much pressure on himself.
In 31 career games with the Leafs, Robertson has three goals and four assists. Monday will mark his first game with the National Hockey League club since Dec. 8, 2022, when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the Los Angeles Kings.
“Generally when players come up, (the message is) don’t try to save the world or win the game on one shift,” Keefe said. “Nick’s trying to establish himself as an NHL player and he wants to impress. He’s going to give us absolute maximum effort tonight. I don’t question that at all.
“The biggest thing when I talk to any player that comes up and when I chat with Nick today is don’t think too much. Just play. You’re a good player. Move your feet and a lot of the things will just fall into place.”
The Leafs won’t have defenceman Jake McCabe, who will miss his fifth game in a row as he continues to work his way back from a groin injury.
Simon Benoit will make his Leafs debut on the blue line. Benoit had 10 points and 60 penalty minutes in 78 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season.
Matthew Knies will get a shot on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. William Nylander, meanwhile, will attempt to extend his team-record point streak to start a season to 12 games.
Ilya Samsonov was the first goalie off the ice in the morning and is expected to start in the Leafs net.
After winning their first two games, the Leafs have sputtered, going 3-4-2 in their past nine. Tampa (5-3-3) is in the midst of a four-game trip and is coming off a 6-4 win in Ottawa on Saturday.
There’s plenty of hand-wringing in Toronto as the Leafs try to find their way, but the veterans among the group are saying what they can to keep the white noise at bay.
“In terms of adversity, I don’t think this is anything,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “This is just the start of the season. This is how it goes, you go through ups and downs and then you try to right the ship and then you get going. I don’t think anyone is reading too much into it.
“I don’t think anything has really been off with the group, but when you look at the results and the play, there are areas for improvement. We’re aware of what we’re capable of, we believe in one another, we have confidence.
“We want to be great, we want to be a team that is up there in the standings. Between now and Sweden (the Leafs have four games at home before they play two in Stockholm next week) I think we have a great opportunity in this home stand to get things on the right track.”
The projected Leafs lineup for Monday night:
Matthew Knies-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi-John Tavares-William Nylander
Nick Robertson-Max Domi-Calle Jarnkrok
Noah Gregor-David Kampf-Ryan Reaves
Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano-John Klingberg
William Lagesson-Simon Benoit