How would Jason Robertson describe his first season as a professional hockey player?
“A lot of progress,” the AHL rookie told Defending Big D.
The hyped forward for the Dallas Stars began his journey to the NHL by having a strong training camp with Dallas this past fall, and was one of the last players sent back to the AHL on September 27th as the team made roster cuts to get down to their 23-man opening roster in advance of their last preseason game the next night.
It’s not a surprising way to start a NHL career. Most players don’t make the jump straight from major juniors to the NHL.
Through his first 18 games, Jason Robertson had just four goals and four assists in eight games while being held scoreless in 10 games. Since then, his production has picked up in consistency, registering points in 16 of 26 games, including 13 goals and eight assists. His 29 total points co-leads the team for the season lead with forward Joel L’Esperance. His 17 goals also co-leads the team for the season lead (again with L’Esperance). He currently ranks 8th in the AHL in rookie scoring.
He’s also one of just four players on the Dallas Stars’ AHL team with double-digits in goals. (Scoring seems to be at a premium everywhere in the Stars’ system these days.)
In a lot of ways, Robertson’s season reflects the way the Texas Stars have gone as a team. They struggled right out of the gate, accumulating a 3-13-2 record as Robertson started his AHL career.
“I think starting from the beginning of the year to now, especially being a part of the team we are now. It builds a lot of character,” Robertson said after the Texas Stars beat the Toronto Marlies 5-3 a few weeks ago, “especially because we had a rough start back in November. So it was tough to be a part of but then I don’t know, just started to get more confidence going in December and then eventually our team got on a roll here. I’m feeding off that and adapting my game, and just becoming more of a pro this year.”
There are a lot of things to get used to when making the switch to the professional game. Learning systems, learning how to recover properly to minimize injuries and to deal with the longer regular season schedule, adjusting to the travel and new game day routines, not to mention familiarizing yourself with a new city (and, in some cases, a new language in a new country).
But Robertson said the biggest difference for him as he adjusted to the AHL game has been how much more structured the play is.
”I look back at juniors — I think it’s a lot more just ‘make something out of nothing.’ But here, guys are just always in the right position.” Robertson continued, “You have to chip it in, go get it, and your teammates reach their spots. Especially breaking the puck out — you’re in your spot, then you got to get lower. I think a big thing for me is just getting a lot more speed up the ice is something that I’ve been taught here and trying to do more often. I think I’m better when I keep my feet moving up the ice and I can make a lot more plays. So, I’m starting to do that a lot more often.”
That philosophy was on full display that night, as shown by this goal that ended up tying the game for the Texas Stars.
What may not be as apparent in the video is the play that happened just prior to the goal where Robertson was able to capitalize on a turnover in the neutral zone just outside the offensive blue line. It’s a move not much unlike what Jamie Benn had to score the game winning goal in overtime versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When asked about the goal, Robertson said that it’s an extension of the work that he’s put in to learn the game at the AHL level. “I’ve been taught — Grammer [current head coach Neil Graham] and Lax [former head coach Derek Laxdal, who is now a part of the Dallas coaching staff] when he was here, he always told me go skate through the guy instead of lunge — skate through the defenseman. I think he tried to shoot the puck or make a move on me and it hit my skate. I had my feet moving at the time.”
And moving his feet gave him the opportunity to capitalize on the mistake made by the opposition. That’s the kind of play that will benefit Robertson as he progresses in his career.
While Stars fans look for ways in which the Dallas Stars offense can potentially be improved, including who the “next man up” may be from the AHL team, Robertson is focused on continuing his progress. “I just want to work hard and see what happens from there you know? It’s obviously...I’d love to play a couple games with the big team. But right now, right here, I think I’m doing well. I know the management says I’m on the right track. So just going from there and just continue to progress.”