Using NHL 20 to predict Nick Robertson’s career

0
34


The Toronto Maple Leafs are back! And as we saw on Sunday in Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, there’s a new face in the blue and white who’s kind of a big deal. Nick Robertson is currently the brightest prospect in the Leafs system and he just became the first 18-year-old NHL player to debut in the playoffs since Jarome Iginla in 1996. Thanks to an impressive draft + one season in the OHL, it’s finally his time to impact the NHL, well ahead of his original timeframe.

With the current hype around Robertson, I thought it would be fun to think about what his career may bring. This is where my love for video games crossed over with my love for hockey. EA Sports’ NHL 20 video game offers a lot of head-to-head fun with realistic hockey gameplay. But one of the game’s most loved aspects is its realistic simulation engine, which I’ve admittedly spent hours on hours experimenting with in my time by controlling various teams and finding out what their future’s hold.

The game allows players to simulate up to 25 seasons into the future, so I decided this would be a great way to give a glimpse into what Robertson’s career may hold. Of course, the results likely won’t be accurate given the fact that it’s just a video game, but it’s a fun way to get excited about his arrival.

There are a few things I had to adjust before I started my simulation. EA Sports assigns player ratings and potential to players based on their performances in real life, considering a number of factors. When evaluating prospects in the game, the most important things to look at are their overall rating (out of 99) and their potential. Now if I wanted Nick Robertson to simulate as accurately as possible, given his recent success, I had to update his profile.

EA Sports originally rated Robertson a 62 overall, with a “medium top 6 forward” potential. What this means is that Robertson has a good chance at growing into a solid top six forward on an NHL team. Prospects are usually on the lower end of the overall scale, given the fact that they’ll eventually grow. However, given that these ratings are quite outdated, I didn’t think Robertson’s rating accurately reflected his growth as a prospect after how he played this season, so I decided to manually adjust his player attributes to better reflect where he is at now.

I decided to keep his potential the same at “medium top 6 forward,” which gives him a good chance of turning into an elite winger in the league (based on a scale from low to high). Last month, the Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked Nick Robertson as the 10th best drafted prospect. For reference, I decided to compare him to prospects considered in a similar vein according to Wheeler’s list. Los Angeles Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi is ranked right after Robertson at 11th and is rated a 76 overall “medium top 6 forward” in NHL 20. Peyton Krebs, a prospect for the Vegas Golden Knights, is rated a 72 overall “medium top 6 forward.” Keeping these in mind, I decided to make Robertson a 71 overall “medium top 6 forward,” which I felt was a more accurate portrayal for this experiment without overdoing it. Take a look at his player profile:

With Robertson updated, I set up my NHL Franchise Mode and turned injuries off, as I wanted to do this experiment assuming that Robertson stays as healthy as possible during his career. I felt as though the unpredictability of injuries in the game would add too many factors that could affect results, such as Robertson’s linemates also getting injured or him missing seasons at a time.

Finally, I wanted to assume as little control over the Leafs as possible during this experiment, so that the results would solely be based on the game’s simulation engine. Fortunately, the game can automatically handle contract and free agent signings as well as waiver pickups. When it came to trades, I simply didn’t make any as I wanted to let the game decide all of those aspects. I had to begin the simulation as the GM of the Leafs so that I could manually insert Robertson into the team’s lineup, but I decided that I would leave the team after five years and sign elsewhere, while still observing Toronto’s year-by-year progress.

Since NHL 20 begins its Franchise Mode at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, I simulated that entire season so that I could start this simulation during the 2020-21 season. Although I wanted to bring Robertson up during the playoffs, since he is under 20 years old, he could not join the Toronto Marlies and therefore could not leave the OHL midway through the season.

It doesn’t matter for this experiment, but for anyone wondering, the Leafs finished the 2019-20 season with a 45-27-10 record, good for second in the Atlantic Division. Auston Matthews led the team in points with 92. The Leafs defeated the Florida Panthers in round one but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference semifinals.

When September 2020 rolled around, Robertson had grown into a 75 overall and was listed as a minor scoring forward. Although this usually wouldn’t make him good enough to make the NHL yet, for the sake of this experiment, I put him in the league right away.

Below are the lines I started the simulation with. Since I let the game’s simulation make the decisions for me, it went ahead and signed Brenden Dillon and Marco Scandella as replacement defencemen after Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci walked as free agents. The game assumed Robertson on the team’s fourth line for now. All I adjusted was making the Leafs top six as similar as possible to what’s often seen in real life. Since I have to simulate many more years for this career simulation, I’ll provide updates to Robertson and the team every 5 years, at the beginning of each season.

Without further ado, let’s begin the simulation.

Year 1 (2020-21)
As a rookie, Robertson had just as regular of a season as you’d expect from any 19-year-old fourth liner. While playing the entire season, he put up 4 goals and 12 assists, which wasn’t enough to take the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year. The Leafs however, had a great regular season, capturing the Atlantic Division title and finishing fourth in the league. Despite the strong season, they were upset by the Washington Capitals in the second round. Robertson scored 5 points in 14 games during the playoffs, while the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup.

Year 2 (2021-22)
This season saw Robertson increase to a 77 overall and get promoted to the Leafs’ third line. As a result, his season production increased to 24 points. Although that isn’t anything to get excited at, his improvement looks promising. Unfortunately, the Leafs took a step back this season finishing fifth in their division and missed out on the playoffs. Robertson nor any Leafs took home any hardware, but Connor McDavid finally won the Oilers a Cup.

Year 3 (2022-23)
Starting on the third line once again this season, Robertson made an even bigger jump in his development, finally reaching 80 overall. With this newfound “80-overall-club” power, Robertson took a step forward in his game and put up 17 goals and 39 assists for 56 points.

His success extended to the team, as they finished second in the Atlantic and went on quite the Cup run. After defeating Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia en route to the Finals, the Leafs defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games, bringing the Stanley Cup back to Toronto after 56 years. Mitch Marner won the Conn Smythe Trophy playoff MVP honour after leading the team in scoring, but Robertson had quite the run himself, with 18 points in 23 games. At just 21 years old, our simulated Robertson has already captured his first Cup.

Year 4 (2023-24)
Robertson made his biggest year-to-year jump in overall this year as he entered this season as an 85 overall second line forward. As a result, he was rewarded with his first big contract, signing with the Leafs for four years for an AAV of $3.750M. With this progression came a well-deserved promotion to the Leafs second line, where he would play alongside Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs had another successful regular season as they won the Atlantic, with Robertson putting up 57 points. In the playoffs however, the Leafs suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers.

Year 5 (2024-25)
The 2024-25 campaign was truly Robertson’s breakout season. Despite staying at 85 overall, he exploded for 15 goals, 68 assists and 83 points, helping the Leafs win the Atlantic Division once again. In the playoffs, the Leafs had a deeper run than the year before, but they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference Finals. Nonetheless, Robertson put up 20 points in 17 playoff games.

Here’s Robertson’s stat breakdown for his first five seasons in the league:

Year 6 (2025-26)
Above is Robertson’s player profile heading into his sixth season. By 2025, he had grown into a star player, reaching an 87 overall and officially being listed as a first line forward. His ratings here better reflect an offensively-skilled star and at just 24 years old, he’s developing impressively.

Here are what the Leafs lines looked like headed into the 2025-26 season.

The major takeaways are that the Leafs picked up an aging Jamie Benn and that Rasmus Sandin became a top-pair defenceman. Andersen was still the starter, but the Leafs also found a young, franchise goaltender in Gustavs Mikhnov, likely a computer-generated prospect. Other than that, the Leafs picked up many new faces to fill out their minor roles.

Despite the game considering Robertson a first-line forward, he unfortunately still slotted in on the Leafs second line LW spot behind William Nylander. Nonetheless, Robertson had a productive season with 20 goals and 53 assists. The Leafs snuck into the playoffs after finishing third in the Atlantic, but got swept in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Year 7 (2026-27)
Robertson grew yet again at the start of this season, reaching a rating of 88 overall. Despite having to spend another season on the Leafs second line, he still managed to have his best season yet, scoring 26 goals and 65 assists for 91 points, helping boost the Leafs to another division title. In the playoffs, the Leafs returned to the Finals, but unfortunately lost in seven games to the Winnipeg Jets. Robertson impressed with 22 points in 23 games.

Year 8 (2027-28)
Having a career year with his contract expiring was wildly convenient for Robertson, as he cashed in during the offseason by signing a two year extension with the Leafs worth $9.430M per year. Robertson followed this up with another solid 73 point season, while the Leafs finished third in their division. However, the Leafs nightmares from two years prior returned as the Lightning swept them in the first round again. Robertson was pointless in those four games.

Year 9 (2028-29)
Entering the 2028-29 season at 27, Robertson took his first step backwards, dropping to an 86 overall and was considered a second line forward again. His production also decreased, as he put up 58 points while the Leafs finished third in the Atlantic for the second straight season.

In the playoffs, the Leafs would advance all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would unfortunately be stopped by the eventual Cup champions, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Robertson had a solid playoffs scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in 17 playoff games. Despite his decrease in production, the Leafs locked him up long-term in the offseason with a six year contract worth $8.865M per year.

Year 10 (2029-30)
In his 10th season, Robertson impressed by putting up 66 points despite dropping to an 85 overall. However, the Leafs collapsed and finished dead last in the Atlantic and 28th in the league. Meanwhile, Columbus captured their third straight Cup and became a modern-day dynasty.

Here is a breakdown of years 6-10 of Robertson’s career:

Year 11 (2030-31)
We have reached year 11, which means another update. As you can see above, 29-year-old Robertson slowly started to reach the climax of his prime and settled into his role as a second line forward.

As for the team, the Leafs roster had changed a lot in 10 years. The Leafs big three stayed intact, but pretty much every other member of the core left due to free agency or trades. The team luckily did land Zach Werenski, however it looks as though they lost that franchise-calibre goaltender they had 5 years ago, leaving things between the pipes looking pretty thin.

Robertson once again rose to an 86 overall and as a result, improved from last season with 70 points. The Leafs found themselves in the playoffs again after finishing fourth in their division, but suffered a first round exit after falling to the defending champion Blue Jackets. Robertson scored five points in seven games.

Year 12 (2031-32)
Despite being 30 years old, Robertson showed no signs of slowing down as he bounced back and had his most productive season in years. Racking up 20 goals and 60 assists helped the Leafs qualify for the playoffs yet again. The Leafs also decided to shake things up, as they traded away William Nylander to the Florida Panthers before the trade deadline. Unfortunately the decision didn’t help much, as the early 2030’s Leafs were looking just like the late 2010’s Leafs, losing to the Boston Bruins in game seven of the first round.

Year 13 (2032-33)
Robertson’s bounce back season must have really helped him out, because he headed into this season with an increased 87 overall rating and was once again considered a first line forward. However, his production still dipped as he put up 64 points. The Leafs crashed and burned this season and finished last in their division, second last in the league, and missed out on the playoffs.

On the bright side, the Leafs selected Sawyer Christiansen, a computer-generated star prospect, second overall.

Year 14 (2033-34)
As a result of the Leafs’ terrible previous year and Robertson’s aging body, he regressed heavily and entered the season at an 83 overall. However, he still found himself on the second line and improved to 76 points on the season. His strong play helped lead the team right back to the playoffs, winning their division as if they hadn’t failed just one year ago.

Unfortunately, the 2034 Stanley Cup Playoffs weren’t as gracious to them. The Leafs progressed all the way to the Conference Finals, but lost to the eventual champions, the Washington Capitals. Robertson impressed with 15 points in the playoffs.

Year 15 (2034-35)
Headed into a contract year, Robertson knew he needed to make an impact on this team. Luckily, he finally got to move up to the coveted first line due to his previous productive season, Matthews leaving in free agency, and an aging Marner regressing heavily.

While Robertson’s numbers dipped to just 56 points, the Leafs were still good enough to win their division again. Robertson took every bit of this opportunity and rolled with it during the playoffs, leading the Leafs all the way to the Finals. In the end, the Leafs propelled themselves ahead of the Los Angeles Kings to win their second Stanley Cup of the simulation. Robertson led the team with 28 points in 27 games, the most in the entire playoffs, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP.

Below is a breakdown of Robertson’s 11th to 15th years in the league:

As we reach the final few years of Robertson’s career, I think it’s already safe to say Robertson’s career has gone quite well. Let’s see what he can accomplish in the twilight of his career.

Year 16 (2035-36)
Winning that Conn Smythe and another Stanley Cup definitely impressed the Leafs brass, who rewarded Robertson fittingly with a three year contract extension in the offseason worth an AAV of $10.900M. But as you can see above, an aging Robertson, now 34, started to decline, especially in his overall heading into the season.

Just looking at the lines tells you that this is a completely new-look Toronto Maple Leafs team. Robertson had become a veteran leader amongst a team full of new faces.

Robertson ended the 2035-36 campaign with some improved production, scoring 62 points. The Leafs once again won the Atlantic, but suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Bruins. Yet, Robertson was still nearly a point-per-game player in that series.

Year 17 (2036-37)
Robertson, now 35, entered the season as an 82 overall forward, with his in-game role diminished to a third line scoring forward. Fortunately for Robertson however, the Leafs lack of strong top six centres allowed him to stay in the top six.

Robertson utilized this opportunity well by having yet another phenomenal season with 82 points. The Leafs won their fourth straight division title, giving Robertson another chance at a Cup.

Fortunately, the Leafs did not disappoint. Toronto cruised all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they faced the Vancouver Canucks, who proved to be no match. The Leafs took home another Cup, giving Robertson his third of his career. Robertson dominated, scoring 21 points in 22 playoff games, but the Conn Smythe Trophy was won by up-and-coming Leafs superstar Sawyer Christiansen.

Year 18 (2037-38)
Robertson’s age finally caught up to him, as he suffered a drastic drop to a 77 overall entering the season. Now being listed as a depth forward, Robertson couldn’t crack the Leafs lineup and was sent down to the Toronto Marlies for the year. The game only played him in 73 games, but he still put up an impressive 60 point AHL season. Unfortunately, neither the Marlies nor the Leafs made the playoffs.

And with that, Nick Robertson decided it was enough. On June 4, 2038, after 17 NHL seasons and one AHL season, Nick Robertson decided to hang his skates for good by announcing his retirement. At the time of his retirement, he had regressed to a 68 overall depth forward.

Here are his stats for years 16-18:

And here is his career breakdown.

Over a 17-year NHL career, Nick Robertson’s simulated-self captured:

  • Three Stanley Cups (2023, 2035, 2037)
  • The 2035 Conn Smythe Trophy
  • Even though the game doesn’t reveal year-by-year All-Star Game rosters or All-Star teams, it’s safe to say he made a bunch of those.

His time with Toronto likely made him a Leafs legend (the virtual Leafs might even retire his number). After such an impressive career, I’d even go as far as to say he’d have a good shot at the virtual Hockey Hall of Fame.

In all honesty, EA Sports’ simulation engine is pretty good. Of course it has its own flaws, such as its tendency to hand out bad contracts, form illogical lines and just have teams make bad decisions, but Robertson’s simulated career totals aren’t far off of what he’s projected to become in real life.

I tried to keep my hand out of the simulation and for the most part, it worked. Unfortunately the game stuck Robertson on the Leafs’ second line for most of his career and made him play centre after Tavares’ departure. But when you consider how he’s currently projected to become an elite top six forward in the NHL, the simulation fairly reflects that. In the game, Robertson really did become a star forward in the league and helped lead the Leafs to multiple Cups. He consistently put up over 70 points a season, with a career high of 91. If Robertson can have a career even remotely similar to this simulation, the Leafs are in good hands.

As Robertson made his real-life NHL debut on Sunday night against Columbus, fans were left dreaming about what he could become. Well this NHL 20 simulation gives us a small idea of the kind of player he may grow into. But really, the skies the limit for him. These next few years will surely be exciting for Leafs fans.