BELLEVILLE — Nick Robertson’s shot is giving him a heck of a shot to make the Maple Leafs’ opening-night lineup.
The 21-year-old winger scored a couple of beauties on Friday night, helping the Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 in a pre-season game at CAA Arena.
“I feel like we have been waiting for him to make an impact in the game offensively at this level,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “And when I say this level, it’s not the quite the NHL here yet, hockey will get tougher than it is this week, but it’s good to see him make his mark.
“What you’re looking for a guy like him is will he be able to make an impact offensively. That’s what he does, that is what he is best at. You want to see him convert at a higher level and I think we’re starting to see that. The games will get harder, but I can see him improving and his confidence growing daily.”
Robertson opened the scoring in the first period, reaching back to control the puck before firing it past Senators goalie Anton Forsberg. In the third, Robertson got enough on a shot from the slot to fool the netminder on a Leafs power play. Also in the third, a Robertson blast from the point produced a rebound, which Denis Malgin put into the Ottawa net.
“I think you can see I’m moving my feet more, trying to be more deceptive,” Robertson said. “That is the main confidence build I’m getting. What’s changing is using my feet a lot more. I got my feet and I can shoot. If the shot is not working, I got to move my feet.”
The shot is working, all right. Robertson also scored against Montreal on Monday.
Ilya Samsonov was fairly sharp in making 27 saves in going the distance, though wanted a last-minute goal by Angus Crookshank back.
Victor Mete, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Justin Holl, into an empty net, also scored for the Leafs.
The Leafs will have Saturday off before returning to practice on Sunday. Keefe did not anticipate making any cuts before then.
SIMMONDS TAKES A STEP
Wayne Simmonds has found that the work he put in during the off-season has been bringing the benefit he anticipated.
“I feel a little bit more pop in my stride,” Simmonds said. “That was what I set out to do from the start of the summer and it seems to have come to fruition.
“Building up strength, getting more power in my lower body, working on my first couple of strides, being able to get to pucks faster, protecting better — that was a lot of what I focused on in the gym.”
The 34-year-old Simmonds, and not that has ever taken his job in the NHL for granted, knew he would have to find another gear after he was inconsistent in 2021-22. Entering the second and last year of a contract that has an annual average value of $900,000 US, Simmonds, who has 1,019 games on his NHL resume and has never played in a game in the American Hockey League, knew there would be no work guarantee with the Leafs. It’s a deep group that remains in competition for a fourth-line job.
“I’ve been around long enough,” Simmonds said. “I know if I come out here and I do what I have to do, I should be fine. But at the same time, you want to make the other guys comfortable. You want to help them out. You want to help their game build as well. That’s just part of being a leader and being in the league for so long. That naturally comes with it.
“We’re all pushing each other. We’re all part of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. We’re all trying to get better. Our main goal is to win a Stanley Cup, so the more internal competition you have, the better it is for everybody.”
On Friday night, Simmonds made his mark. His hit, with linemate Logan Shaw, on Rourke Chartier, helped lead to the Mete goal.
Later, Simmonds ran over Sens defenceman Thomas Chabot and then fought Austin Watson, getting the upper hand as both tumbled to the ice.
NO CONTRACT CONCERN
That Zach Aston-Reese doesn’t have a contract with the cash-strapped Leafs is not front of mind for the industrious forward.
“They’ll figure it out,” Aston-Reese said, referring to the Leafs and his agent, Michael Curran. “Whatever it is, numbers or that kind of thing, I’m just going to do my job and hopefully everything will work out.”
Nothing was promised to Aston-Reese when he was invited to camp on a professional tryout.
Not only has the 28-year-old been diligent in his quest for a contract, the trickle-down effect at forward with injuries to captain John Tavares and Pierre Engvall has given Aston-Reese a longer look on the third line with centre David Kampf. On Friday night, Aube-Kubel was on the right side.
“My expectation was to bring a solid-role player position,” Aston-Reese said. “I think I’ve done my job so far. There’s a lot more to prove. Moving forward as we get closer to the (regular) season, there will be some bigger tests.”
With the signing of defenceman Rasmus Sandin, the Leafs approximately are $2.9-million over the salary cap, so some maneuvering will have to be done to get Aston-Reese signed.