Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Marchessault, Martin St. Louis. The Tampa Bay Lightning have a long history of trusting players whom many considered to be “way too small for the rough and tumble NHL” but scored a million goals everywhere they played anyway. Nicholas Robertson is one such player in that vein and is going to be much debated by the Bolts front office for a selection at 27th overall this Friday in Vancouver.
Nicholas “Nick” Robertson is a 5’9” left winger from the OHL and will likely be the youngest player drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft. He played his age-17 season with the young Peterborough Petes and put up 55 points in 54 games, leading the team in scoring.
On the whole, Robertson is described as an elite puck handler with great raw abilities and has that classic short-player, big-drive style that gets a player like him *to* the OHL in the first place. From first glance, his skating mechanics are very strong and his shot is something scouts have been impressed with.
Looking at his boxcars, you can see immediately that Robertson is still very new to the OHL, but he improved between his age-16 and age-17 seasons (doubled his goals, assists, and shots) so it was a very good first step from him. With older prospects, we sometimes get the benefit of a third season or a second half of their draft year where the player takes a noticeable step forward.
Robertson hasn’t matured physically to that point yet, so a team will have to take a bet with this kid and hope his Draft+1 year sees him take another step forward. That said, it’s hard to beat a point-per-game in the OHL. For context, among OHLers less than 18 at the start of the season, Robertson was eighth in points per game and primary points per game.
Compared to the OHL, Robertson was a bona-fide first-line player. His only blemishes came in the form of primary assists, but I see a reason behind that. Of all the forwards to play for the Petes this season, the highest draft pick on the team was third-line center Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who went in the third round to the Maple Leafs. To make up for that deficiency in shooting talent (Liam Kirk aside), Robertson doubled his shooting, and as a result, goal-scoring from one year to the next instead.
Robertson was a left-winger all season (he didn’t take faceoffs), but showed incredible mobility as a creator of offense. His shot map showed that Robertson was unbiased in which wing he skated down and where he got his shot off from. In the highlight reels linked below, you can see that Robertson scored most of his goals off odd-man rushes or breakaways, and from his spot at the side of the net on his off-wing on the power play.
The shot chart below is for all situations so you can see exactly where those power play shots came from. His other major weapon seemed to be his forehand-backhand-shelf deke he used on the breakaway. From personal experience, those goals tend to be marked a little farther than they are by the shot tracker.
Why did Robertson score so much off breakaways? Well, because he has great separation speed that can pressure defensemen to collapse into their net and thus expose lanes of shooting and passing. The counterattack was a big part of Peterborough’s offense this season because the team got hammered in their own zone all season long and relied on speed from their wingers and their power play to create the offense they needed to win games and ultimately make the playoffs.
Hopefully with a better team around him, we can see a more puck-possession style of play from Robertson, but until then, at least we know he’s got the legs.
Watch Nick Robertson just take off. He’s a dynamic talent, and absolutely none of this is new. He’s been doing it in Peterborough all season. pic.twitter.com/NPkQGfbKsm— anttoni honka fan club (@DraftLook) January 24, 2019
One thing that separated players like Gourde and MSL was their determination to get to the front of the net and drive the play towards the net. As a 17-year-old, Robertson shot a lot from the perimeter and didn’t do much damage in the scoring-chance areas at even-strength. He was aggressive in open ice and never backed down from a battle, but we really don’t have much data on whether he can translate that open-ice tenacity into something useful in the pros where mistakes are fewer and farther between. That could very well change as he gets older and better than his peers in the OHL, but right now we don’t know if that part of his game will actually develop.
We love the success stories of small guys making the NHL, and they’re super valuable players, but the difference between a surefire NHLer and perhaps a career AHLer like Seth Griffith, Jeremy Bracco (oh yes, this is a take) is the ability to get to the net and create scoring chances.
Robertson might be a risk for a team’s first pick for this reason and why he’ll likely slip into the second round.
As I’ve gone through the process of writing this article, I’ve actually become less high on Robertson being a pick in the first round. There a lot of great raw skills to like with his game, but the majority of his point-production has come from specialized situations like breakaways or on the power play. It’s not really his fault, but he hasn’t been put in the position to show us a rounded game in the offensive or defensive zone.
For some reason, I can’t get Jeremy Bracco out of my head when thinking about N. Rob. Both are Americans who played in the OHL, both are diminutive with great hands, speed, and vision, but Bracco is a player who needs a lot of the heavy lifting done for him in order for him to be special in the areas he’s special in (power play, odd-man rushes). Robertson is four years younger than Bracco so we could very well see that gap bridged over the years and potentially see Robertson turn into a player like Vinnie Hinostroza, Nic Petan, or Gourde at the high end. Basically a middle-six winger at best.
Our resident draft expert, Lauren, is higher on Robertson than most — which is understandable considering the raw skills and amount of growth we could see in him moving forward — but most services still feel like there is enough of a question mark with him to shift him back to the second round.
For me, the likeliest scenario where Robertson goes home a Bolt is where the Lightning trade their first-round pick down for a second and bonus pick lower in the draft. The last instance of this happening in the NHL Draft occurred last summer when Kyle Dubas dropped three spots from 26th to 29th and drafted Rasmus Sandin in a place way higher than most thought he would go and with a player like Joe Veleno still on the board. One year later, things seem to have worked out for the other team in Blue and White.
Other Scouting Reports
When watching Robertson play, it’s the offensive attributes which are most evident. His individual skill is elite, constantly pressuring defenders in one-on-one situations with his lightning quick feet, agility and terrific hands. Coupling his skill with a tenacious work ethic, Robertson is a nightmare to handle on the forecheck, constantly causing disruption of opposing teams breakouts and turnovers in deep. - Canes Country
Robertson is much shorter than his big brother Jason [Stars prospect], but he’s also a much better sniper. Has a laser beam of a wrist shot. Plays with a lot of jump, but his top gear needs some work. - Defending Big D
If you read my scouting guide you already know that I strongly dislike terms that are used to describe the emotion a player plays with. It’s nearly impossible to spot intensity or truly know whether a player is working hard. Some players just make getting from A to B look easier than others. Some players finish checks in ways that create the same outcome as others without looking nearly as violent. Every so often, though, you get a player who never stops moving, hunting, driving and hitting and you can’t help but notice just how hard they really are working. Robertson, the youngest player in my top 31, is that player. You can literally see it in the way his eyes bulge as he chases down a bigger player and knocks them over. You can see it in the way his body shakes and his shoulder bobble when he cuts to the inside lane to explode towards a loose puck. - Scott Wheeler