Fierce competitor. This is how you could describe Nicholas Robertson in two words. He isn’t very tall at 5’9’’, but size absolutely doesn’t matter in his game. He plays like he is a 6’3” power forward, and is consistently at maximum revs. Every time he steps on the ice, it’s complete focus, highest intensity, at all times.
Robertson’s work ethic makes him stand out from both his peers and opponents on the ice. He forechecks hard, backchecks hard, supports low in the zone and strides as fast as he can to get on offence — where he shines the most.
Birthplace: Arcadia, CA, USA
Weight: 168 lbs.
Team: Peterborough Petes
He isn’t just a unique, undersized grinder. He is also a very skilled player. He goes to the corners and to the front of the net, finds the puck, and digs it out to attack the opposing defensive box using his shifty hands and size to his advantage to slip in and out looking for scoring chances.
Follow Robertson #16 in the sequence below to see how he combines high effort with skill to create offence out of nothing.
He starts by reading the opposing team in his defensive zone and descending low to break up the play, then he goes back up to be an option on the breakout. Unfortunately for Robertson, it turns into a bit of a one-man affair; his team slides the puck up to him and stands back to watch him work.
But being alone against four defenders on his own doesn’t stop him.
He accelerates through the neutral zone, uses the wall to get around a first opponent, picks the puck back up, turns to protect it against a second opposing defenceman, pivots on him, and while falling down manages a shot at the net.
Robertson also has great playmaking chops. He sees the ice extremely well, knows where his support is, and can move the defence in many different ways: delaying his play, transforming a shooting motion into a pass, or even spinning on himself to slide the puck behind his back to teammates and springing them for scoring chances.
His talent as a setup man was on full display in the CHL Top Prospects Game, where he was one of the best players. He made multiple impressive passes and had no problem creating instant chemistry with unfamiliar teammates.
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.
Considering his skill, it can be puzzling why he didn’t have a statistical season that reflects it. With 55 points in 54 games, he barely finished above the point-per-game mark — somewhat of a benchmark for the CHL’s top talent. But playing for the Petes can partly explain why he isn’t wowing anyone with his numbers.
Peterborough rose in the standings a bit this year, earning 70 points and a place in the playoffs after a very difficult 2017-18 when they finished with only 52 points. But calling them a powerhouse in a conference with teams such as the Ottawa 67’s and the Niagara IceDogs would be a big stretch.
Robertson, incredibly, ended the season as the top scorer of the team with his 55 points, and that despite missing some of his team’s games. Some other Petes players didn’t take step forwards for the team this year. They weren’t scoring that much, and when they did so, it was more by committee. There was no core of very strong offensive players putting the pucks in the net like we commonly see in Junior teams.
What could help Robertson make a bigger impact for the Petes next season is to work on his skating. Right now, it is below average compared to a typical NHLer. Adding not just speed but more quickness would go a long way to increasing his numbers in 2019-20.
The diminutive forward always puts a fight on the ice, but he would stand a better chance if he could always be first on loose pucks and could create more chances off the rush. His role in the NHL will likely depend on how much more mobile he can get.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Elite Prospects: #36
Future Considerations: #45
Hockey Prospect: #48
NHL Central Scouting: #17 (NA Skaters)
Due to this weakness and his smaller stature, it’s probable that Robertson falls in the draft, at least a bit. Many scouting service have him going somewhere in the first half of the second round right now, but his offensive package and competitiveness combo, added to the fact that he is one of youngest player in the draft with a September 11th birthday, makes him a potential home-run pick. For that reason, Robertson can be placed anywhere from that mid-second slot up to the latter portion of the first round. He only needs one team to bet on skill and work ethic above everything else.