Name: Matthew Robertson
Team: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Stats: 52 games played, 7 goals, 26 assists, 33 points, 26 PIMs, +18 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 26th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Hampus Lindholm / Ryan McDonagh
One of the most importance distinctions to make when it comes to scouting hockey prospects is between what a player is right now versus what a player is projected to become in the future.
Some prospects look great at the junior level and excel in the league that they play in... but then struggle in the pros. On the flip side, some prospects have an abundance of interesting pieces to their game but don’t put them all together right away, peaking later on after they’ve worked closely with an NHL organization and have had more time to develop.
Defenseman Matthew Robertson falls into the latter category. The Edmonton Oil Kings blueliner didn’t generate a lot of draft buzz this season because he didn’t put up gaudy point totals or produce highlight-reel plays, but watch him play up close and it quickly becomes evident just how much raw potential he possesses.
Robertson’s strengths as a hockey player come primarily from his natural physique and athleticism. Had he not chosen hockey growing up, he seems like the type of kid who could have excelled at a lot of different sports if he had applied himself to them. He has a great frame for a defenseman, at about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, and has great endurance and conditioning as well, not looking fatigued at the end of a game or when caught out on the ice for long shifts.
His single best attribute, however, is his skating. There might not be a player in the entire 2019 draft who can skate backward better that Robertson can. Not only does he generate quick, powerful strides going in reverse, his backward crossovers are phenomenal, allowing him to easily move laterally to prevent opposing forwards from getting around him. He gets up to a great top speed in open ice moving forward; however, he doesn’t rush the puck very much, possibly because his hands aren’t quite as smooth and confident as his skating stride. He’s very good at jumping up in the attack, though, making himself available as a late trailer or sneaking up to the backdoor.
Defensively, Robertson is excellent. With his mobility and long reach he always creates a huge circumference in the defensive zone that opposing forwards are loath to enter with the puck. His ability to use his body in one-on-one confrontations, whether in open ice or along the boards, is incredibly advanced for his age. He can tie up and box out opponents with ease, suffocating and eliminating them from the play. He’s not perfect — his gap control against the rush and his defensive-zone awareness could be better — but there’s no reason to believe that those weaknesses won’t improve over time.
The only real knock on his defending is that he could stand to be a little nastier and more imposing. He can play a polite, stick-focused defensive game in the WHL because he’s bigger than most of his opponents, but just how well will he fare in the NHL against aggressive, heavy forecheckers? Guys his size will inevitably try to push him around and get physical in the crease, so adding a little more of a mean streak would be a welcome addition. He certainly has the frame to add muscle and push back if he wants to.
There’s room for improvement on offense as well, as evidenced by his modest scoring numbers this past season. His offensive awareness and creativity seem average at best, and he doesn’t have the puck control to be an elite puck rusher. That being said, however, his slap shot is a cannon and he can really whip passes. Add in the aforementioned skating and you can see the offensive growth potential for Robertson. He might never be a power play quarterback or a big point producer, but he should be able to contribute and be an option that opposing teams have to account for.
It should also be mentioned that Robertson is no stranger to handling pressure. He’s suited up internationally for Hockey Canada on three separate occasions and looked very solid every time. And as one of Edmonton’s assistant captains this season, he helped the Oil Kings advance to the third round of the WHL playoffs. He’s been a highly touted player since he was young, so making the jump to the NHL and handling that challenge shouldn’t be a big issue for him.
As touched on above, the big thing with Robertson is to focus less on what he is right now and focus instead on how much upside he has. After all, big, two-way defensemen who can skate are difficult to find and therefore hold a lot of value. If everything clicks and his development goes smoothly, Robertson could be a very special player when he reaches his peak. The Dallas Stars don’t have a particular need for left-shot defensemen, but if Robertson is still available at 18th overall, the argument could certainly be made that he’s the best player available.