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Top 25 Under 25: No. 21 Tristen Robins is playing a bigger game than ever

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Robins had to learn to outplay his size — now his size has caught up, and so has his game.

Saskatoon Blades forward Tristen Robins #11 chases the action during the third period of a game between the Everett Silvertips and the Saskatoon Blades at Angel of the Winds Arena on November 22, 2019 in Everett, Washington. Photo by Christopher Mast/Getty Images

Tristen Robins was a big win for the San Jose Sharks in the 2020 NHL Draft this past October. Projected to go anywhere from the end of the second round through the third round, the Sharks took the winger at 56th overall with one of two picks received from the Washington Capitals in exchange for defender Brenden Dillon.

He climbed through the draft rankings when his sophomore season with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL nearly tripled his point production from his rookie campaign. A jump in production like that means people are going to take notice. But where did it come from?

This one is pretty easy to figure out, but we’ll backtrack a little to start. Robins was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft by the Regina Pats. He played just one game with the Pats before being traded to the Saskatoon Blades.

You don’t have to watch much of this video to get what I’m going for here, but take a second to check out this video of Robins from his Bantam Draft year. He is still 15-years-old in that video, a few months away from being 16, and he looks downright tiny. That is an infant baby and that’s not just because I’m a certified old person now — the footage of him on the ice shows that he was definitely smaller than his peers.

Now listed at 5-foot-11, Robins is able to play a different kind of game. He’s much more physical than he used to be. In the linked video, Robins specifically notes that he tries to “not spend too much time in the corners” as a smaller player. Compare that to this quote from Blades general manager Colin Priestner in an interview with CKOM about Robins from October:

Priestner remembers one of the final games of the season where Robins and Weisblatt matched up against one another throughout the game.

“Ozzy and Tristen went at each other in the corner for about 12 or 15 seconds, cross-checking each other and battling. The refs just kind of let them go and finally Tristen knocked him down at the end and got a penalty,” he said.

“There must have been a head scout at that game, because you would have really fallen in love with both of those players from that shift alone.”

As a smaller player, Robins learned to be quick, keep his feet moving and absorb the hits — and now he’s able to lay one, too.

The other reasons for his breakout season are simply that the Blades were stacked in his rookie campaign. Their top-six included Max Gerlach, Gary Haden, Eric Florchuk and 2019 third-overall pick Kirby Dach — all except for Dach had a few years on Robins. All four players left in 2019-20, leaving a top-six spot open for Robins. A shift to center (though he’s still listed officially at wing) saw his offensive production explode.

He still draws comparisons to some undersized players; in particular Brendan Gallagher and Viktor Arvidsson, who are both 5-foot-9, and Brayden Point, who is 5-foot-11. In a way, Robins brings the best of both worlds. He learned how to make up for his size by playing a complete game, and now he has the size and strength to elevate it to the next level.

His development is certainly already considering whether he’s better suited at wing or center, but it’s definitely an area to think about his fit in the Sharks’ organization and at the NHL level, in general. His game has been described as individualistic, with limited awareness of his teammates, particularly in passing. Though the Sharks’ center depth is log-jammed by an abundance of 4Cs, that kind of play would be exposed more at center than wing in the NHL.

So should Robins spend more time developing at center, where he found success last season, or is there a chance he gets a look at wing?

What We Like

The value of Robins’ complete skill set is that he is already feels like a lock for making the NHL, which can’t be taken for granted. His general NHL projection is between the second and fourth line. His draft value is excellent, and it adds a lot of value to the Sharks’ end of the Brenden Dillon trade.

Areas of Improvement

Robin’s transition game is a particular weakness, and per EliteProspects Director of North American Scouting Mitch Brown, that weakness is across the board for zone entries and exits at 5-on-5. The individual nature of his play is going to make him an exciting goal-scorer, but his passing and vision will need to improve before he gets to the NHL level.

Highlight

Two minutes of 2020 WHL highlights. One thing you’ll notice is a lot of one-timers. The kid has an absolutely wicked shot.