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Maple Leafs Development Camp All About Robertson and Steeves

Four days worth of skates and a pair of scrimmages were enough to show that forwards Nick Robertson and Alex Steeves stand out from the pack.

It's hard to squeeze out a lot of information in just four days of work and a pair of scrimmages. But when it was all said and done, there were two forwards who looked ready to take their game to the next level.

In the first of two scrimmages on Saturday, forward Nick Robertson recorded a hat trick and displayed speed that was more than a couple of gears ahead of his counterparts.

On Monday, Robertson was placed onto a line with newly-signed free agent forward Alex Steeves and the two skaters looked like they had played on the same team for a decade.

"I never really got the pleasure of playing with him until today actually," Robertson said of Steeves. "It's pretty crazy how we have chemistry like that, just like that."

Steeves scored four of Team Blue's six goals in a 6-0 shutout over Team White. Robertson helped set up many of the goals as the two were untouchable when they hit the ice together.

"Off the ice, I would say I really appreciate his kind of killer instinct and his mentality," Steeves said of Robertson. "You can tell just by looking at him that he is a super-driven person."

Earlier in the camp, Sr. Director of Player Development Hayley Wickenheiser said they were working with Robertson to dial back his intensity just a bit and let the game come to him. 

In response, Robertson said he wasn't sure what a dialed-back version of himself looked like.

"I just appreciate that because I feel like I'm the same way," Steeves said. "I've been told at times that I'm kind of too intense all the time so I think I can kind of relate to him in that way."

Robertson's performance at development camp comes as little surprise, given he has ten games of NHL experience, including four games during the 2020 playoffs.

His inclusion to the camp and subsequent rookie tournament this week in Traverse City, Michigan was a bit of a surprise given his past experience. But the approach the 20-year-old took was to use the time as an extension of his training camp.

"I thought Nick had a really dominant camp," Wickenheiser said. "The nice thing from our perspective was to watch the way he was able to distribute the puck, offensive playmaking, less forcing opportunities (and) a little bit more taking the play that was there."

Meanwhile, Steeves, the newly-signed free agent forward out of Notre Dame, looked like a man among boys on the ice. When he wasn't scoring goals with his skilled shot, he was able to drive offense while sticking to his responsibilities away from the puck.

"To me, he looks like a pro player on the ice,' Wickenheiser said. "He's a man the way he's built off the ice, his conditioning is quite far down the line."

Other notables

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev was a focal point heading into camp. The forward admitted that he struggled to get up to speed after the first couple of days, but attributed that to his focus to put on weight during the off-season instead of spending the normal amount of time he usually puts on the ice.

"He struggled with contact drills and the battle-type situations that we put out there for him," Wickenheiser said. "I thought he had a good first scrimmage and today was OK."

A consistent effort is going to be SDA's biggest challenge in making the jump to the Leafs. 

Defenseman William Villeneuve is a player that is could see more time with the Toronto Marlies after playing a couple of games with the club last season.

"He tends to make really good decisions at the blueline," Wickenheiser said. "His shooting can still improve and his skating has a long way to go."

A fourth-round pick by the Leafs in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Leafs have a few defensive prospects that are competing to become everyday Marlies. Filip Kral is another player the team has high hopes for on the blueline. With Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren expected to make a deeper jump into the NHL, the Marlies defensive depth will be put to the test.

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