Some things have change since the last time we looked at San Jose Sharks prospect Tristen Robins in December 2020. Less than a month later, on Dec. 30, Robins signed a standard, entry-level contract. The achievement was earned due to a successful 2019-20 campaign with the Saskatoon Blades, where Robins set a career high in goals (33), assists (40) and points (73), among other career-bests.
Well, consider those totals old news, as this last season, he trumped two of those records (45 assists, 78 points), and matched his goals record at 33. Hurdling the stat line that earned an NHL deal is nothing to bat an eyelash at, regardless of circumstance. But it wasn’t exactly a task that Robins achieved in stride.
After signing his ELC, Robins’ 2020-21 season was undercut by a MCL sprain he sustained in-game on Apr. 11 2021, playing in the then-bubble hosted by the WHL. It was a blow dealt at a time when he was averaging 21:38 in ice time, playing on both special teams and scoring at almost a point-and-a-half per-game pace with 23 points in 16 games before the injury.
Prior to joining Saskatoon for a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, Robins even got the opportunity to play a pair of games with the San Jose Barracuda. There, he met the organization, joining with fellow prospects Brandon Coe and usual WHL rival Ozzy Wiesblatt. Wiesblatt plays for the Prince Albert Raiders in the same division as Robins’ Blades. The two players are a big part of the rivalry, with Robins in particular tallying 26 points in 28 career games against the Raiders.
Nine of those points came in the 2020-21 season within three games between Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Because of the abbreviated season, plus his injury, Robins could not take part in any more of those games, against Prince Albert or otherwise. To be able to bounce back in 2021-22 with a career-high in points — after everything that had seemed to be going right was hit with a roadblock marked by injury — must be the mark of a special player.
Despite flying under the radar a bit this season, others seem to think as much of Robins in that regard. In March, as the Blades were gearing up for WHL playoffs, The Hockey Writers revisited the Sharks 2020 draft class to discuss which probable professional debuts excited them the most.
Victor Nuno wrote, “It’s Robins for me. I think he has the highest upside of [Thomas Bordeleau, Daniil Gushchin, Wiesblatt and Robins] ... Robins is a guy I can see really excelling around stronger talent.”
You see flashes of his upside here and there, this season being no exception. Robins started the year strong, earning WHL Player of the Month in October after earning 21 points through 10 games and seven multi-point contests to lead the league in scoring. He posted a season-high 5-point game against the Red Deer Rebels on Dec. 28 2021, then followed it up with 13 more points in five games through Jan. 22.
Robins notably stepped in to captain the Blades after Aidan De La Gorgendiere was sidelined due to injury. Robins being deputized for Blades leadership came at a critical junction, as he led the team into the WHL playoffs for his second postseason trip. Unfortunately, the Blades were eliminated by the Moose Jaw Warriors in the first round.
Robins missed the 2021 Sharks Development Camp due to immigration issues, though he did play in the first preseason game for the Sharks, notching a goal against the Anaheim Ducks. Without much of a sample-size, and limited coverage of the underrated forward’s ascent, what is clear is that between battling injuries, inheriting hockey rivalries, stepping into leadership and finding new scoring summits: Robins comes with more experience than the typical prospect.
What We Like
In the Elite Prospects Draft Guide profile, Robins is described as a player who “can shoot the puck, handle the puck, and support the puck in the offensive zone,” or in other words, he possesses the holy trinity of cycle-game hockey. If you believe in hockey fate (or just good amateur scouting), it may come as no surprise that some of the Sharks’ malign in producing offense in recent years has come from a lack of just that: the cycle game.
It’s a part of the Sharks’ offense that has long been forgotten with the departure of players like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The numbers support it. On Jan. 24, Sheng Peng of NBC Sports California wrote how, per SPORTLOGiC, the Sharks were 22nd in the league in slot shot attempts off of the forecheck and 20th in slot shot attempts off of the cycle. That illustrates a glaring weakness: retrieving and holding onto pucks in the offensive zone hasn’t been good enough in creating scoring chances.
We’re now in May, and in hindsight, things didn’t improve much, if at all. But some of that may come in the type of play that Robins can bring, who has also been credited with avoiding the perimeter, instead mixing it up in puck battles despite his 5-foot-11 frame. With more tenacious prospects like Robins on the way, we might soon see a renaissance in the Sharks’ identity.
Areas of Improvement
One particular stat that isn’t necessarily impressive in large numbers are penalty minutes (PIM). This season, Robins ranks team-second with 54 penalty minutes in 62 games. It makes sense, as Robins plays first-line minutes, and it’s already been noted his tenacity when going into the greasy areas — occasional zeal is to be expected.
But at the NHL level, having on-ice impact and being overzealous is like walking a tight rope, and Robins will not want to fall back on tendencies. Things that are okay in juniors will hurt you in the NHL. The most recent case-study of this argument is Kevin Labanc, who is naturally more of an offensively-gifted player, but has tried to work on and compensate for a lacking defensive game in recent years.
It’s been a struggle. Labanc’s season ended early, but the 2020-21 season reveals 31 PIM in 55 games, fifth-highest among all Sharks skaters. The result was a lot of wasted time shorthanded for a team who ranked fourth in penalties taken that season.
Robins isn’t particularly known to take many penalties (2021-22 is an outlier), nor does he have any known defensive deficiencies, but it’s easy to apply Labanc’s 2020-21 trajectory to Robins if he finds the transition to the NHL difficult, given the size and speed of NHL competition. The truth is, it’s hard to know what caused Robins to take so many penalties this season. But as with most prospects entering their professional career, criticism goes hand-in-hand with query. So how might it translate with Robins playing for the Barracuda?
There’s a cornucopia of choices when attempting to clip Robins in what stands out from his game. How about this: three goals, three plays with Robins firing from the left hashmarks. It’s shades of Alex Ovechkin, dare I say.
Don’t dismiss it yet: the pinpoint accuracy, the one-timer capability, the intelligent reading of the play — if Robins comes as advertised, he could at least give the power play a much-needed different look in the near future.