Matthew Robertson impressed the Rangers during training camp and was rewarded with an extended stay, hanging around longer than 18-year-old junior players who were drafted outside the first round typically do.
The 2019 49th overall pick had some trouble getting on the scoresheet immediately following his return to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, failing to register a point in his first four contests. As has been harped on repeatedly at Blueshirt Banter the last few months, defensemen (even of the shutdown variety) who struggle to produce offense at the junior level rarely go on to have successful NHL careers.
In Robertson’s case, the early dearth of points was nothing to worry about. For one, a four-game sample is of course not particularly consequential. That aside, Robertson’s goose egg does not accurately represent his performance, as he was engaged and contributed to the team’s offensive efforts. He started transitions from the defensive zone, made confident passes, activated from the point to get involved in offensive-zone possessions and made his share of plays to create offensive chances for either himself or teammates. Here are a couple of examples from his fourth game against Regina (#22 in white).
Players who are doing the right things but aren’t seeing results eventually have their fortunes turn around, and that’s exactly what happened for Robertson in the last week. In his past three games, he has decorated the score sheets with two goals and three assists.
The greater context of the production itself is also encouraging. He registered his points in a variety of ways and scenarios, including commanding the point on Edmonton’s power play. Admittedly, this speaks to a lack of better options, but Robertson has taken advantage of the opportunity and has done an adequate job. He’s a confident passer who isn’t going to make elite plays but will make sure the puck is constantly in motion and won’t make too many mistakes. That assist in particular is a great play from Robertson, as he fakes the shot and opens up his body to make the pass across the slot. It’s a high-percentage play that shows true playmaking instincts.
Robertson has also increased his shooting frequency, with 17 shots in seven games, which is nearly a .5 shot increase compared to the 2018-2019 season. Fourteen of those shots have come in his last four games. With early season rust out of the way, that should be close to the norm for Robertson.
Defensively, Robertson is on his game as usual. There are some similarities to prime Marc Staal. He combines good skating for his size, quick instincts, and a long reach to close gaps and take away space from puck carriers. He’s also efficient at collecting dump-ins and finding outlets, which have also indirectly increased his involvement in the offense.
The Rangers have better young players than Robertson, but he’s the one in the organization that staff probably worry the least about in terms of his progression as a player. Every once in a while, Robertson will get beat one-on-one or make a poor decision with the puck and it serves as a reminder that he’s still a teenager with work to do. He could add more power to his first couple of strides in open ice. He can become a bit more agile. He could work on his stickhandling. Still, Robertson is showing a satisfying combination of maturity and upside for his age and especially for someone taken in the latter half of the second round.