It’s almost June and we haven’t had any hockey since March 11th. We are still working hard trying to complete our 2020 NHL Draft Black Book and we plan to announce an exact release date sometime in the near future.
So with that said, we decided to share the writeup for one of our player profiles included in the 2020 edition of our Black Book. In the actual book our profiles are accompanied with an exact ranking, a draft grade, player specifics, our popular ‘quotables’ and ratings in five categories for each player. We’ll save that information for the actual book release, but we will share that Robins is ranked as a Top 25 prospect in our final NHL Draft ranking of the season. To find out his exact ranking spot, you will need to wait until we release this year’s Black Book. For now, you can read below to get our thoughts on Tristen.
Tristen Robins – Saskatoon Blades
Tristen was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft by the Regina Pats, but was dealt to Saskatoon during the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline that saw Libor Hajek moved to the Pats during their 2018 Memorial Cup run. Robins has adjusted well to playing for the Blades and lead the team in scoring this past season with fellow 2020 NHL Draft prospect Kyle Crnkovic trailing closely behind. Robins was an all situations player for Saskatoon, which included the top line even strength and on the power play. When shorthanded Robins was often on the second unit. He finished the season with 73 points in 62 games, including 33 goals. What’s more impressive about Robins season is that in the final 33 games, he finished with 54 points. There was a second half surge that saw him have a higher success rate with his goal scoring output.
Robins is a high-octane, instinctive line-driving forward, who overwhelms his opponents with a combination of determination and skill. His build is a bit thick and at first glance, you wouldn’t think of him as someone with a lot agility or explosiveness. His frame can be deceptive though, as he’s not only an explosive and sound technical skater, but has a tremendous amount of agility on the ice. We were left watching sequences where we thought Robbins had skated himself into a dead play, only to be shocked as he effortlessly side-stepped an incoming opponent. His edges and pivoting ability make him very elusive in tight spaces and really pronounce his puck protection game. His skating isn’t only effective for evading players, he also features a full extension in a straight-line and can drive with power through each subsequent stride. You rarely see him skip over the ice, he gains traction rapidly and it allows him to make some unique skating plays.
There’s rarely in any draft a player that we can characterize as similar to a Brendan Gallagher or Viktor Arvidsson, but that’s exactly the type of mentality that Tristen consistently displays. He’s listed at 5’10 and looks more like 5’9 out on the ice, but don’t tell him his size, because he doesn’t play small in any way, shape or form. He’s willing to take hits to make plays, and we’ve seen him take a massive hit from a stationary position along the boards, only to be in awe of his ability to not only stay up right but send his larger opponent crumpled to the ice instead. He is the type of player that is willing to enter heavy traffic and it often leads to scoring chances. He’s not a perimeter player, he seemingly refuses to remain on the perimeter.
His competitiveness and energy doesn’t only extend to when he’s on the puck either. Robins is a three-zone player who keeps a demanding pace off the puck, and he uses this pace to pressure opposing defenses. We’ve seen him successfully anticipate an opponent’s passing lane in the neutral zone, then skate aggressively towards him to force a decision, before batting the puck out of mid air and taking off up the ice to generate a scoring chance, as one example. When he’s not using his hand-eye coordination or stick to generate takeaways, he’s using his frame to launch himself into opponents along the boards. We were surprised how often he won battles against bigger, older and more physically developed players; he simply out competes and out hustles opposing players. He’s on the smaller side as mentioned, so occasionally he does get knocked off the puck despite his competitiveness. To counteract this, he increases his work rate when he turns the puck over and is willing to do what it takes to get the puck back.
Although his mentality and competitiveness are what determines his line-driving instincts, he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of them without skill, but Tristen is a talented player. His coordination transfers from his skating into his release point. Robins was effective on the right side, since he’s capable of extending his toe-drag through his release. When skating at full speed, he would extend the puck to his side, evading in-coming sticks while cutting towards the middle portion of the ice. This allowed him to suddenly shift the angle of his shot and keep goalies from picking up on the placement of the shot itself. This made him a real threat during transitional rushes, where he could blend his skating, puck-handling and wrist-shot. Additionally, he looked to set his shot behind screens, where he would reveal his stick on one side before pulling it in-tight to his body on the other. On the powerplay, Robins was used along the right half-wall and was good at recognizing open shooting lanes and showed the ability to take difficult passes in one motion, generating quick-strike goals as a result. Tristen is capable of mixing up his options due to his playmaking ability. He’s very good at chipping pucks over sticks, or saucing passes that have the right amount of momentum placed on them to land on the tape of his teammates before a goalie could move laterally and get set. We wouldn’t label him as a dynamic playmaker but certainly a good one who can use his passing to cycle the puck, or thread a pass-through traffic when needed. His hands are quick as well. We’ve seen him breakdown goalies in tight to the net, and he uses his hands in conjunction with his elusiveness to weave through tight areas of traffic on the ice.
Often times, the higher the player’s motor, the more likely the player hasn’t learned how to slow down at the right times on the ice, but that’s not the case with Robins. This is a player who can process the play while still going at full speed, and can make the necessary adjustments to re-opening both his passing and shooting lanes. He blends deception, spatial-awareness, and creativity together to remain difficult to read. Most importantly, he can anticipate where the play is heading with and without the puck, then make the right decision on the ice, at the right time, at a consistent level. We’ve seen him drive down the right circle, use his hands to fake his wrist-shot before stopping up, dragging the puck around his opponent and chipping it to his teammate for a tap in goal as an example. It’s rare to see a player such as Robins, who plays with the engine he has, yet be poised and calculated to the degree he is. That’s to say he isn’t prone to the occasional error though. We’ve seen him misidentify his passing options or try to do too much at one time. But he does think quickly and decisively most of the time.
Although Tristen is skilled and plays with a rare drive, there’s still limits to what his ceiling can potentially look like. For instance, he’s agile for his build, but his skating isn’t dynamic, it’s just very good. That extends into other facets of his skill set. His shot is very good, but it’s not at the same caliber as some talent ranked above him. His playmaking shares the same issue, its good but doesn’t look like his teammate, Kirby Dach’s from last season as an example. With a very good skill level, but not an excellent or dynamic one, it limits Robins ceiling when projecting him as a finished player. That said, we did get to scout Viktor Arvidsson and have been monitoring his development for years, and we didn’t think he would end up as a first-line, line-driver winger either. The point is, usually players that can surprise or supersede their expected ceilings, are players like Robins who plays the right way and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their team better. For these reasons, we view Robins as a very useful two-way energy winger, who most likely plays in a middle-6 role for a team. Just don’t count out the “it” factor, and this kid has that factor.