To put it mildly, when it comes to injuries, this was not the season the Blue Jackets had hoped for.
Columbus led the NHL in man-games lost to injuries when the campaign hit the coronavirus pause, and the continuous stream of players to injured reserve has been one of the constant themes of the season.
Yet as head coach John Tortorella has pointed out a number of times this season, there has been a silver lining to that cloud. As the season has gone on, the Blue Jackets have had to turn to players who might not have been expected to play key roles but have used the opportunity provided to show their stuff.
Many of those players now look like they could be important pieces for the Blue Jackets going forward. This week we’ll profile those players and compile their highlights in our Building Blocks series.
These seven players are all in their first full seasons with the Blue Jackets and through their play have showed they could key parts of the franchise’s future going forward.
Eric Robinson, Wing, No. 50
Stats: 50 GP, 7-5-12, +10, 1.6 PS
Coming into the season: Signed after finishing his career at Princeton two years ago, Robinson made his NHL debut with one game played that season before suiting up in 13 games a year ago. Though he didn’t score a point and was largely a healthy scratch after the trade deadline, Robinson racked up scoring chances and showed he looked like someone who could contribute offensively at the NHL level as he got older. He played in 45 games with AHL Cleveland a year ago as well, posting a 12-12-24 line in 45 games.
Why he showed he’s a building block: Robinson began this season with the Monsters, notching three goals and five points in 14 games before being recalled in November when Markus Nutivaara went on injured reserve. From there, he was a regular, in part because he scored three goals in his four games, including his first NHL tally in his opening game of the season against Montreal and Carey Price.
Though the scoring touch didn’t quite stay at that pace, Robinson has showcased his elite speed throughout the season to win races to puck and create offensive opportunities. He’s also showed an improved ability to turn that speed into goals with some nifty finishing moves, though it’s an area he admits he’d like to keep improving on as he gains experience.
“That’s the key for Robby in staying in the National Hockey League is his puck skills, understanding situational play,” head coach John Tortorella said. “You can’t help but get him on the ice just with that speed. He just backs people off with it, so he continues to improve. He continues to understand how we play and the structure that we play and I think has been a really good player for us.”
Robinson also has showcased a pretty good shot at times, too, ripping home one-timers for goals against both Nashville and Vancouver as the season neared the stretch run. He placed sixth on the team with 79 hits, using his 6-2 frame to play a physical game in what was generally a third- or fourth-line role.
What to expect going forward: Robinson seems like he’s not yet finished product at this point — it is, after all, his first full NHL season — but he’s put himself into the conversation to be a continued part of the forward unit. He’s the kind of player who still has potential to be unlocked – as Tortorella said, his puck skills need to continue to develop, and he would sometimes disappear at times this season.
But when his speed gets going, he’s a unique weapon, and he had to gain confidence with his shot and ability to finish this season. If he’ll ever develop offensively enough to become a top-six forward is a question, but even at his production level this season, his speed and physicality make him a difficult player to play against and a weapon in the bottom half of the lineup.