Players like Brayden Point, Johnny Gaudreau, and Alex DeBrincat have thrived, more and more have realized that one does not need to be 5’11” or more to be an impact player in the NHL. More and more teams have realized that some skills are more valuable than size and also cannot always be taught. And over and over, there are smaller players who have been able to serve all kinds of roles at the NHL level even as far back as 20, 30, and 40 years ago. There is also the old cliche of it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. And from what others have seen of him, the subject of today’s profile is not at all short on skill or fight: forward Nick Robertson.
Who is Nick Robertson?
Nick Robertson is a left winger for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. Per his profile at Elite Prospects, Robertson was born on September 11, 2001; he shoots left; and he is officially listed at 5’9” and 161 pounds. Robertson is not big and he is also among the youngest draft eligible players this year. Elite Prospects confirmed that he is also the younger brother of Jason Robertson, who Dallas drafted in the second round in 2017 and led the OHL and CHL in points in the 2018-19 season. Jason is 6’2” and 201 pounds and Nick has another brother - Michael - who plays club hockey at USC and is 6’0” and 179 pounds. Given that Nick is not even 18 yet, there is a chance he could grow a bit more.
His profile page at Elite Prospects lists him as a left wing and a center. However, with only 37 faceoff attempts last season per his OHL profile page, I would consider him to be a left winger. Also per his OHL profile page, Robertson increased his production from 33 points and 115 shots as a 16-year old rookie to 55 points and 185 shots last season with fewer games played. That rookie season is no joke. According to Prospect-Stats, only three OHL players under the age of 17 put up more points than Robertson: Arthur Kaliyev (48), Ryan Suzuki (44), and Blake Murray (44). Only two U-17 OHLers had more shots than Robertson’s 115: Kaliyev (207) and Graeme Clarke (121). While 33 points on its own does not seem like a lot, it is for something joining major junior hockey at its youngest non-pre-approved age. His player page at Prospect-Stats for 2017-18 shows that he was producing at the rate of a second-liner as a 16-year old and he frequently shot in the scoring chance area.
In this past season, Robertson’s gains were more apparent. He finished second on the Petes in scoring with 55 points in 54 games. As his OHL stat line included a shorthanded goal, I think he may have received shorthanded minutes to go with power play and even strength ice time. An increased role is a plus. While he finished outside of the top-ten under-18 OHLers in points, he still averaged an impressive 0.5 goals per game and 1.02 points per game, both top-ten rates for U-18 players per Prospect-Stats. His player page at Prospect-Stats shows that his rates of production and estimated ice-time were at a first-line level. Even with more shots on net, Robertson consistently fired away in the scoring chance “home plate;” he did not beef up his shot counts on long shots of hope. He grew as a forward at Peterborough. And he was not even 100% for it; he missed some time with a wrist injury near the start of the OHL season. When he returned, he made his mark on Kingston as per this Mike Davies article at the Peterborough Examiner.
His work in the OHL has not gone entirely unnoticed at the international level. Robertson represented the United Stats as the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, a summer under-18 tournament. Robertson put up four goals and an assist in five games, tying him for the team lead in goals with Luke Toporowski. As far as I can tell, I do not think Robertson received any consideration for other tourneys or games with the national team. He still made his presence known when he had the opportunity at the international level.
Robertson has been a battler since he was born. The Peterborough Examiner did a full profile on Robertson on November 22, 2017. The article goes into great detail about how Robertson literally fought for his life from being born at 28-weeks and his lungs not immediately functioning. Two months later, he had pneumonia. There was a brief concern about his development. And since then, he has excelled in what he does. The result: his name will be called later this month. It is a question of whether it will be late on June 21 or early on June 22.
Where is Nick Robertson Ranked?
Rankings are not everything and plenty can change between now and June. Still, they can provide a general idea as to whether a prospect is worth getting excited over. There is some reason to get excited for Robertson:
- NHL Central Scouting Services: North American Skater - 30 (Midterm), 17 (Final)
- Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst: 39 (Preseason 400, August 2018), 64 (Top 100, November), 77 (Midseason 400, December 2018), 47 (Top 500, April 2019)
- Future Considerations: 28 (Fall Ranking), 45 (Winter Ranking), 36 (Spring Ranking), 35 (Final Ranking)
- TSN - Craig Button: 26 (March 25, 2019)
- Elite Prospects: 36 (April 2019)
- Larry Fisher - The Hockey Writers: 27 (Top 124, October 2018), 48 (Top 186, December 2018), 14 (Top 217, February 2019), 19 (Top 300, April 2019), 22 (Top 350, May 2019), 23 (Top 350, June - Final)
Other than Larry Fisher, the rankings have Robertson set for a late first-round, early second-round projection. Fisher has been a big fan of Robertson all season long. Steve Kournianos is a little cooler on him. Based on the dip and rise in their respective rankings, it appears that wrist injury that shortened the first half of his 2018-19 impacted that. By season’s end, he has rebounded and/or entered the radar for some of the bigger names. Nick Robertson is many things but people are not sleeping on him.
What Others Say about Nick Robertson
Normally, I put him last but a good place to start for a general profile is Ben Kerr’s profile at Last Word on Hockey. Kerr’s profiles break down a player’s skating, offensive game, and defensive game before summarizing his opinion about the player. Here is Kerr’s profile of Robertson; this part of it about his offensive game stuck out to me:
Robertson has a non-stop motor and is always involved in the middle of the play. He is surprisingly physical for his size, getting in quickly on the forecheck and being an absolute wrecking ball against opposing defenders. His ability to cause turnovers and create havoc on the forecheck helps him to create offence. He is also willing to get to the front of the net and creates havoc there. Robertson is good at getting tip-ins, burying rebounds, or just causing goaltenders problems with his presence and ability to get under their skin.
I especially liked this description because it meshes with the shot maps at Prospect-Stats and it allays some concerns about his size. Kerr notes that it is an issue in that larger players can overpower him. And Kerr does highlight that Robertson has plenty of skill in his game. This is further justified by the OHL coaches naming him the best stickhandler in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19. But this description describes a player that is willing to go to those dirty places, go fight for pucks, and go support his teammates down low or in the corners. It speaks of his courage in addition to his actual game.
Kerr’s profile in general is positive. He noted that Robertson’s skating is a plus with praise for edgework and speed. He also noted that Robertson’s defensive game could use work. Specifically, his positioning and sticking with his coverage. Kerr noted a tendency to chase the play or throw a hit when the smarter play may be to hold back. He believes it is teachable and I’m inclined to agree.
For another take, David St-Louis at Habs Eyes on the Prize profiled Robertson back in April. As with this - and all of these other profiles and observations - you should read the whole thing. This part stood out to me:
When he has to drive offence himself — like at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament when the U.S team didn’t have the strongest roster — Robertson also shows that he can effectively finish the play on his own. He packs a heavy release, dropping all of his 168 pounds into it to have the puck fly off his stick.
He displays an ability to snipe pucks on the power play. He’s usually seen standing on the half-wall ready for a pass, but can just as well pick corners when he is given space at five-on-five. Just like how he sets up passes, Robertson knows how to create lanes to get his shot through by being patient and faking the defence.
Robertson’s shot is one of his biggest assets as an offensive player. St-Louis’ description goes into more detail about how hard his shot can be, but also how precise they can be as well. St-Louis also cited Mitch Brown’s prospect tracking project (which he continues to add to; here is his Patreon if that sort of thing interests you), which had a small population size of seven games; but in those seven games Robertson was driving the play. His percentiles for carry-ins, shot assists, on-ice shooting attempts, and shots are all incredibly high. It points to Robertson being adept as facilitator of offense beyond assists or points. St-Louis did think that Robertson’s skating was an issue, noting that he needs to add speed and quickness to become more mobile. That is a little at-odds with other observations, but it is what St-Louis saw of Robertson.
Drew Galloway of Future Considerations highlighted Robertson in his notebook post. In his description of Robertson’s game, these parts of them jumped out to me:
Robertson possesses excellent agility both with and without the puck. His skating is definitely elite, as he can make the quick cuts east-west, but can also wheel north-south as well. Though he has high-end speed, his edges are definitely the best aspect of his skating. The most impressive thing about Robertson is that his hands, mind for the game and vision can all keep up with his feet. He’s got incredibly quick hands and can put the puck nearly anywhere with a pass. On top of all of that, Robertson is able to let go some heavy shots that has good velocity off his stick. He’s got a quick release and can get the puck up with speed
It seems there is not a consensus about Robertson’s skating. Or perhaps Galloway saw him at different times than St-Louis and Kerr. I do hope Galloway is correct because this is all good for any skater, especially an offensive forward. Being able to hustle and flow with the game is crucial. It allows a player to use his shot, use his vision for passes, use his tenacity to win pucks - all things Robertson apparently does well at.
Robertson did exceedingly well at the CHL Top Prospects game. Derek Neumeier at Future Considerations listed him as a standout for his beautiful assists. Steve Kournianos had more to write about Robertson in his recap of the exhibition:
Easily the most talked about prospect from the game, and for good reason. Robertson’s speed, quickness, acceleration and playmaking shouldn’t have surprised anybody in attendance who watched the OHL with regularity. He’s been consistently dangerous in both league play and for Team USA at international events, including his hat trick against Canada’s best in the controversial loss at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka. Forget the size thing for a second — this kid comes from a good family, brings a tremendous amount of energy to every shift, and can be counted on to make any defender look foolish.
It is based on one game and do recall that Kournianos had him 47th in his final Top 500 rankings. All the same, it is further support for the notion that Robertson may be a good skater and he is a very effective attacker.
Speaking of standing out, Robertson’s performance at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup definitely counted. It convinced Larry Fisher that he is a big enough deal to be a first-round talent. This is part of what Fisher wrote at The Hockey Writers on August 13, 2018 after the tourney concluded:
As a fellow 16-year-old at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Robertson’s shot stood out — both for his quick release and his accuracy. He was a volume shooter throughout the tournament, but also showed off some smooth moves to set up his team-high four goals.
Robertson looked and played bigger than he’s listed — at 5-foot-9 and 161 pounds — and he’s likely to experience a growth spurt during his draft year. His older brother Jason, a second-round pick (39th overall) for the Dallas Stars in 2017, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds. Jason will likely play for Team USA at the World Juniors, but the knock on him has been skating. Nick displayed no such woes, keeping pace with pretty much everybody at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
After returning from his wrist injury and picking up the pace with the Petes, Fisher returned Robertson to a high position for his rankings. And this is where it started from: showing off his strong shot, his abilities on the puck, and his skating. I like that Fisher briefly touched on the criticism and then provided a counter-point.
Of course, as Robertson plays in the OHL, it is always worth seeking out OHL prospect guru Brock Otten’s opinion. There are two posts at OHL Prospects that are worth reading with respect to Robertson. The first is from Otten’s 2018-19 midseason media/scouts poll. Otten asks for opinions and votes for the top draft-eligible prospects in the OHL at that time of the season. Robertson ended up finishing sixth on the list. This quote by Dan Stewart of Draft Prospects Hockey was my favorite:
Robertson had some injury issues that keep him out or ineffective early in the season but he has since become healthy and been one of the top dual-threat offensive forces in the League. A quick-footed, offensive winger with special vision, soft hands and a wicked shot. He finds open ice like a pro when he does not have the puck and draws in defenders when he does before dishing a well-timed, accurate pass to an open teammate. He could be the best NHLer to come out of this OHL draft class when all is said and done
This is pretty much the best argument to take Robertson early. If you believe in his potential and that what he has demonstrated will translate to the next level, then go for it. The second post is Otten’s own ranking of the top 50 OHL prospects. He goes in detail for his top ten, which Robertson also made at seventh. It is a more balanced take on the player. This part of it is worth highlighting:
Even though he’s undersized at 5’9, Robertson is tough to separate from the puck because of how quick his hands are and because of how he always keeps his feet moving. This makes him a very dangerous player on the powerplay, as he often draws multiple defenders to try to take the puck off of him. Robertson also has a fantastic shot; a wrist shot which he can get off very quickly and without hesitation. I also really like Robertson’s competitiveness without the puck in the offensive zone. If he does happen to turn it over, he’s aggressive in pursuit to get it back. In the defensive end, his awareness and energy level is not quite as consistent and his lack of strength limits his effectiveness here. I also think Robertson could stand to improve his first step explosiveness and his top speed, considering his lack of elite size.
If Stewart’s quote read as the best reason to take him, Otten’s description of Robertson helps explain why he is going to be a late first-rounder or an early second-rounder. While opinions vary about his skating, Otten notes that there is at least room for improvement for Robertson’s speed. It is something that could give NHL teams pause. Although, Otten did note that his edgework is quite good - so it is a little more nuanced than “his skating needs work.” Otten’s noting that his defensive game needs work and that is another drawback. Similar to Kerr’s findings, Otten noted that Robertson has much to improve on the defensive side of the game. However, the offensive talents are great. His shot is a plus. He’s strong on the puck. He commands attention with the puck. He can and will win it back. Otten concludes that he has plenty of upside (somewhere Hubie Brown is wondering if it is tremendous upside potential) and that is a good summation of the prospect in a given phrase.
A Little Video
Hockey Prospects Center put together this just-over-seven minute video of Nick Robertson highlights from this past season. There’s a lot to like. Here’s the video; look for the smallish young man wearing #16 for Peterborough:
The very first highlight has him stealing the puck at the opponent’s blueline, charging in alone, and dekeing the goalie out of his skates for a goal. The very second highlight has him fighting off a defender and an aggressive goaltender as he proceeded to score. The very third highlight has him breaking away on a rush up-ice, fooling the goalie with a shoulder shimmy, and roofing the puck in - in overtime. I am not even a minute in and I’ve seen Robertson fly on the ice, handle the puck very well, and finish the plays. I know this is a highlight video but these are some impressive highlights - just based on the first minute alone. If nothing else can be taken away from this, Robertson can be a very exciting player to watch!
But do keep watching. The shot he had at 2:20 was astounding. The toe drag at 2:42 was impressive. His poaching of a turnover at 4:16 was performed with authority. The shot placement at 4:44 was amazing. The puck pursuit on a forecheck at 6:03 was fantastic as Robertson finished the play with a goal seconds later. And there are some assists in there that were just lovely, like in the last highlight of the video.
Again, these are all highlights so they feature the very best of Robertson’s 2018-19. They do not show any defensive plays or situations. They do not sure how a shift goes when he or his line does not score. But they show off that his shot is excellent. Some of those passes were great. I enjoyed how he was able to get lost in the defense’s coverage and quickly make them pay for it. From my amateur eyes, his skating seemed more than fine to make the plays. This was a very fun seven minutes and change to watch.
An Opinion of Sorts
Let us recap the issues. He is not big and he is small enough where there is some legitimate concern about how he could handle a tougher, faster, more physical game. His defensive game seems to need more work. I would like to think coaching and experience are what he really needs. I hope it is, at least. Opinions vary on his skating. Some say it is fine. Some say it needs some real improvement. Some say it is his top speeds that needs work but the other elements are OK. I get all of that.
Let us recap the positives. Robertson has a very good shot. He is a very hard worker. Despite his size, he will go into the dirty areas, he will forecheck, and he will get physical himself. He is able to be mobile enough to lose himself in coverage for the benefit of his team. He can, will, and make some great passes as the situations call for it. He recovered well in his injury and he showed up big time at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and at the CHL Top Prospects Game, two stages where he was playing with some serious talent at his level.
To me, the positives outweigh the issues. Robertson’s upside seems legitimate to me and even if he does not get any bigger, then so what? Jesper Bratt is not big, he’s fine. Sergei Brylin was not big, he was more than fine. The franchise leader and runner-up in goals in a season were small guys, Brian Gionta and Pat Verbeek. I mention those names not just because they were smaller players (Bratt and Brylin: 5’10”, Verbeek: 5’9”, Gionta: 5’7”) but also because they are/were fan favorites. Between all of the observations, Robertson strikes me as the sort of winger that people will get behind because he will do all of the grit work plus provide the flair that makes his moments memorable. He almost fits the profile of the kinds of prospects the Devils have been drafting. If the Devils scouts and management also think the skating is not that big of a deal, then he’s right there. Great shot? Yes. Good at distribution? Yes. Creates shots and good offensive situations off zone entries? Yes. All this and he’s not even 18 yet; he has a little more time than most of his draft eligible peers to meet that boundless potential.
I would be thrilled if Robertson was available at 34th overall. I do not know if he will make it that far. I could easily see Robertson be a late first rounder based on the skills he does bring to the table. Given that teams do not want to realize that they passed on the next DeBrincat-like player, they may be more willing to pick Robertson within the first 31 picks. I am hoping they are not and he slips to New Jersey. At that point, I will be hoping that the Devils management quickly makes the call for the left winger from the Peterborough Petes.
That’s my opinion for Nick Robertson. Perhaps you may have a different opinion. What do you think of the player based on what you read in this post? What do you think of his game? Do the issues (defense, size, skating) outweigh the positives to you? Are you encouraged by the fact that he is 17 and is one of the youngest players in this draft class? Do you think the Devils should draft him in the second round? Will he even make it to the second round? If you have seen him play, what did you think of his play? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Nick Robertson in the comments. Thank you for reading.