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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Matthew Robertson is a reliable defenceman with offensive upside

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The talents of a stay-at-home defenceman give way to more modern puck-moving ability when possession switches in Robertson’s favour.

Andy Devlin

Matthew Robertson is both an old-school and new-generation defenceman. At 6’4” and over 200 pounds, he has the overall stature to slow down opposing forwards, pin them to the walls, and swat away the puck. He can defend his goaltender and clear the front of the net. But on top of being a physical presence, he also has the mobility to play an effective puck-moving role.

Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Date of birth: March 9, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: Defenceman
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 201 lbs.
Team: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Robertson is quick off the mark for his size and can compete with some of the speedy forwards in the WHL in races to loose pucks. Even if he falls a couple of steps behind, his reach can get him the first touch. Then he is able to establishes possession and create the breakout.

He doesn’t have the explosive cutbacks of a Lassi Thompson to separate from the forecheck, but he doesn’t give many indications as to what pass he wants to make, keeping opponents guessing as he retrieves the puck. Once he turns up ice, he can hold on to wait for a passing lane to open, send the puck quickly to a forward turning up the ice, or push the play out of his zone himself, only using the boards as a last resort against overwhelming pressure.

Matthew Robertson wears #22 with the Edmonton Oil Kings and #3 with Team Canada.

The clips of Robertson moving the puck show the diversity of his transition game. At the centre of it is the desire to advance the play in a controlled way. In the second clip, you can see him use the boards, but it’s to make a pass to himself to elude a forechecker rushing onto him. He completes his play by hitting his teammate at the top of the defensive zone with another feed.

His size is another advantage on the breakout. He often uses his body to seal possession from others or holds the puck on the boards, waiting for support before attempting a pass instead of rushing his play and giving the puck to the other team.

The defenceman’s transition game scores very well in all categories. He is one of the best players at generating controlled exits and entries, and overwhelmingly attempts those versus dumping the puck out of the defensive zone or into the offensive end.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

Robertson’s solid defensive game pairs well with his puck-moving abilities. He could be quicker at adapting his positioning when coverage breaks down in his end and at giving a supporting option when his team gets possession, but he is generally very effective, especially in using his stick and size to break plays. Sometimes all that is needed is one forceful shove from Robertson to completely separate an attacker from the puck, allowing a teammate to swoop in and start the attack.

In the play below against the Prince Albert Raiders in the playoffs, after covering the front of the net, Robertson chases an opposing forward up the wall, stick in position to cut his passing options. Then he recovers to his original position, and seeing the puck sent down on the back wall he glides down and pushes another opponent off the puck.

Due to constant shoulder-checking, the defenceman recognizes opposing passing lanes well and can be hard to play against around the crease with his strength and the attention he gives to neutralizing opposing sticks. His awareness helps him know his teammates location and create fast transitions when he gets the puck.

Where there are more questions mark, despite the occasional interesting play, is in Robertson’s offensive game.

His ability to have the puck on and off his stick in a second from a cross-ice pass is probably his best tool on the offensive side. Even if he didn’t score on a lot of them this season — the defenceman put up seven goals — he showed some great catch-and-release wrist shots. He can also fire the puck with the traditional one-timer from the blue line, having it slip through traffic to hit the mesh, or sneak behind his coverage for the occasional backdoor play.

He isn’t as agile a handler as other top defenceman in the draft. He can jump up from the blue line and does so a few times a game, even showing some deception to open up the wide lane. But he doesn’t get especially creative and isn’t willing to further attack the defence to shoot at the net or move it around to free teammates for scoring chances. He also sometimes settles on a shot from the point when he has space to move up.

EliteProspects

His offensive game is more straightforward. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when the space closes on him as he rises in level, it’s reasonable not to expect him to become an offensive creator. It’s more likely that he drives the attack and puts up numbers through his transition game.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Dobber Prospects: #30
Elite Prospects: #37
Future Considerations: #19
Hockey Prospect: #35
McKenzie/TSN: #16
NHL Central Scouting: #26 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #35

Robertson is projected to go near the end of the first round on draft day. He is the perfect candidate for a team looking to grab a solid defence prospect with a game easily projetable to the top league in the world.

There are few defenceman with the size and skating ability of the Edmonton Oil Kings’ blue-liner. With time, it’s possible that the flashes of offensive skill become more regular, cementing Robertson in a top-four role on an NHL team.