Few players have been as offensively dominant as Nicholas Robertson over the past three OHL seasons. With 97 goals and 174 points in that span, he's been as good as it gets.
Robertson won't play for the United States this year after the Toronto Maple Leafs decided to hold on to their prized prospect with NHL training camp on the horizon. It was a bummer for the Americans who were ready to give Robertson every opportunity needed to be the tournament's top scorer. But his focus is on making the Leafs for the shortened 2020-21 season, and we can't blame him for taking that path.
Fortunately for the Americans, one of the guys that can hang with Robertson offensively happens to also from the United States – Los Angeles Kings prospect Arthur Kaliyev.
Scoring isn't an issue for Kaliyev - in 192 OHL games, Kaliyev's 248 points trails just Akil Thomas (267 points) since 2017, but his 126 goals leads the way. Had the 2020-21 season gone on as planned, Kaliyev would have had the second 50-goal season of his OHL career, with Kaliyev recording at least 31 goals in all three of his campaigns to date. In fact, he had nine more points than Robertson this past season, albeit in 11 more games. Maybe it's due to their NHL affiliations, but Kaliyev doesn't get enough attention for his scoring abilities, especially since he outscored Tag Bertuzzi – the next full-time Hamilton Bulldogs player with 47 points – by 51.
So, if you haven't watched him before, get ready to be amazed.
Kaliyev is one of eight players returning to the roster in 2021, a group that includes camp linemates Alex Turcotte (Kings) and Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks). Kaliyev is now the undisputed No. 1 left winger on the American roster, and after recording four goals and six points a year ago (mainly with the same duo by his side), he'll have the tools to be even more important a year later.
"It’s really exciting," Kaliyev said. "We all know each other and played with each other (or against each other) a lot of times, so we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, we stay together and can show off our best skill as a line."
The Americans fell flat when it mattered a year ago, losing 1-0 in a quarter-final matchup to Finland in a year where most expected the red, white and blue to go all the way. This year, though, the Americans are filled with top-quality 2001-born players, considered to be one of the best American birth years in quite some time. The U.S. National Development Team Program from that age group had a dominant run through most of its lifespan, and now the majority - minus the likes of Jack Hughes (NHL) and John Beecher (COVID-19) - will have a shot at gold to close out the team's youth experience.
Kaliyev, though, wasn't part of that program. He instead chose the OHL route and has become one of the best players in Hamilton's history as a junior hockey team. Kaliyev has often been criticized for his poor defensive game and average skating, but Kaliyev's goal-scoring antics have been nearly unmatched throughout his entire major junior career.
And that's exactly what the Americans need out of him this year. Robertson would have been a key offensive weapon for the Americans, and while Kaliyev would have been regardless, this is another chance for him to prove he's a top prospect in the game today.
"He needs to be [heavily involved]," said USA head coach Nate Leaman. "He’s playing with two top guys. He’s played in the tournament previously too, so he has that experience. He’s also coming off a good year in junior hockey, last year.
"We’re expecting big things from Arty. And, certainly, we’re putting him in a role where we’re expecting for him to contribute."
Among others, the Kings will have Quinton Byfield (Canada), Rasmus Kupari (Finland) and Turcotte and Kaliyev to look forward to at the World Junior Championship. All of them should factor into the team's future as the Kings continue to build one of the strong prospect bases in the NHL. Kaliyev may not be the biggest name because his game isn't as well-rounded as the others, but how can you not get excited about someone who has no issue scoring goals?
But that's the future. Now, the Americans just need Kaliyev to be the start he's projected to be. Put some money down on that happening.