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Maple Leafs Notes: Matthews explains why Robertson is thriving

TORONTO — When Auston Matthews compares 18-year-old Nick Robertson, who scored a playoff goal on the 2020 bubble, to a 21-year-old with a better chance of making ...-camp roster, he thinks about the misfortune of expectation (injuries) and bad timing (infections).

But Matthews finds a confidence and peace that only comes with experience.

“The world changed when he entered the league. So, mentally, it’s not easy to go through that. Physically, too. But he’s been really confident so far,” Mathews says.

“I think the biggest thing for him is, sometimes you try too hard and it works against you. You try, you push it so bad, you push it, you want it, sometimes you just have to relax there and play your game. Work hard and be smart. Play around and don’t try to force the issue too much.

“He’s done a good job of finding his game this camp. And obviously, you score a couple of goals and you get that confidence. That’s what he wants to do.”

Robertson averaged a point per game with the Marlies last season, and his three preseason goals helped earn him a second-string audition alongside William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot in Montreal on Monday.

Then Robertson came out and drew the hooking penalty that led to the Leafs’ opening power-play goal, produced a bad/beautiful primary assist on Nylander’s insurance goal, and helped set up two more in a 5-1 preseason win.

He is now up to seven points, tied with Matt Duchene and Timo Meyer for the lead in the NHL preseason scoring race.

For Robertson to use his biggest weapon, he needs prime offensive minutes. Yet a top-six role requires the 5-foot-9 left-winger to match the strength of the best NHL D-men and be trusted defensively.

“I don’t know if I can teach him how to shoot because, honestly, I think he shoots harder than anybody on the team,” Matthews says.

“It’s the little details of the game (that) matter a lot, especially how fast guys are and how tight they play, being able to use that shot when there’s not a lot of space.”

Kerfoot didn’t want the kid to be portrayed as a one-trick pony.

“He’s more than just a shot, right? Like he’s a good hockey player,” Kerfoot says. “He can make plays, works really hard, and is willing to do everything it takes to be a good all-around player.”

Keefe praised Robertson’s exhibition games as “the best I’ve ever seen Nick look in a Leafs jersey,” especially as he adjusts his approach within the team’s structure (six points in three games) and increases in speed.

While Robertson’s stellar camp has impressed fans and impressed his teammates, there’s still no guarantee he won’t start the 2022-23 season as a Marley.

“These are NHL preseason games, but it’s not the NHL,” Keefe notes.

“But in Nick’s case, no matter what’s in front of him, he just keeps getting better.”

Sandin is stress-free… finally

“Bang-bang-bang.”

Mussin describes the life of training partner Rasmus Sandin since signing his bridge contract last week.

The young defenseman happily hopped on a cross-Atlantic flight from Sweden and is adjusting to Toronto time after undergoing medicals, catching up on missed appointments and rustling through practices.

He is busy but relaxed.

“I’d say there wasn’t a point this summer without stress. It was definitely stressful. Since the beginning of the summer, I thought (my contract) had to be done every day and every week,” Sandin said during his first meeting with Leafs reporters.

“I was watching the preseason and I was just itching to get here and play.”

Sandin says his reception has been great, and he has no problem patrolling the ice on his unnatural side, Muzzin’s right, in the absence of friend Timothy Liljegren.

“I feel comfortable on the right,” Sandin says. “I have to prove myself. I have to show them that I had a good summer and be ready when the season starts.

Keefe, 22, believes he’s had enough time in the league to figure out his strengths and weaknesses, and has reached the “right age to really start blossoming.”

Sandin spent the summer training (and golfing) with William Nylander bulking up from 178 to 194 pounds.

To ease his mind from the pressure of the impasse, Sandin says he leaves his phone at home and heads out into the woods for chanterelle mushrooms, which he uses for cooking.

“I’m really excited to be back,” he says. “The sun is shining now, so I can’t complain.”

Mussin’s back problems go way back

Muzzin may have been slowed by injuries recently, but the 33-year-old is as quick as ever.

Asked how he went from saying he was healthy on media day to sitting out the first week of camp with a sore back, Muzzin quipped: “I think it was talking to the media all day.”

Shortly after his return to practice, defensemen Kalle Jarnkrog and Alexander Kerfoot played much of the season shutout victory: “I had to come back without losing my job.”

Humor is a wonderful tool for diversion.

But the injury risk is more serious for Mujin, a family man who suffered a series of concussions last winter and missed 43 percent of Toronto’s regular season recovering from multiple injuries.

“If you want to get deep into it, yes, there’s life after hockey. You want to be normal. I’ve got kids. I want to play with them,” Muzzin said Monday.

“But I’m not worried about that. We’re taking the right steps here and managing it, and we’ll continue to do so.

Muzzin doesn’t want to use the term injury While discussing the discomfort and tightness in his back.

He has been managing since he was 15 and had surgery on two herniated discs that robbed him of his first OHL season with the Sault Ste. Mary.

While Mussin admitted his start to camp was disappointing, he is now allowed to make contact, increase his conditioning, and pitch in his first preseason game this weekend.

“You play a long time and you play a lot of games, and things add up and build up. It’s something we’ve managed well for a long time and we have to continue that,” Muzzin says.

“Even if you’re having surgery at that age, and you’re playing a physical game in an important place, it’s something you deal with every day. I have been doing it for 15 years. So, this is nothing new to me.”

Muzzin has the ultimate trust and respect for the club’s medical staff to help him play as many games as possible.

“It’s unreal,” he says. “Guys over there will extend your life.”

How Muzzin’s body holds up to the rigors of another long season will be as much a question as the back pain.

“I don’t care about Jake,” Keefe says. “If anything, last year’s playoff experience showed us that he’s going to be ready to play as long as his body puts him on the line, and it looks like that at this point. He’s going to be ready.”

Once: Matt Murray played 100 minutes in a Leafs sweater and allowed just one goal on the Habs power-play. He 44-to-45 In the scenes faced…. John Tavares (hamstring) and Timothy Liljegren (hamstring) have resumed skating. With Tavares sidelined, Michael Bunting It’s good In his promotion to the best power-play unit…. Calle Järnkrok was too ill to practice on Sunday, but returned to action on Monday. Pierre Engvall is recovering well after spraining his foot during off-season training, but needs another round of imaging before he gets the greenlight to contact. He has been practicing fully with the team and is hoping to see preseason action this weekend against the Red Wings. “We’re not there yet,” Keefe cautions.

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