Eric Robinson's ascension up the Columbus Blue Jackets depth chart has been a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
The 6-foot-2, 200 lb. left winger was never drafted by an NHL team and took the long road by playing four years of college hockey at Princeton. After seeing his point totals climb every year (4, 11, 21), he took a huge step his senior season, being named captain and posting 31 points, all while leading his team to an ECAC Championship. His season ended at the hands of Ohio State in the NCAA Midwest Regionals, one of just four times the Tigers qualified for the Tournament.
Two days after the loss, the Blue Jackets announced that they had signed Robinson as a college free agent, and that Robinson would join the Blue Jackets immediately for the remainder of the season. He made his NHL debut in the season finale, a loss in Nashville, as the Blue Jackets chose to rest some veterans for the playoffs. At that point, the Bellmawr, NJ, native was likely seen as organizational depth, with some hopeful upside.
But between injuries in Columbus and a strong AHL debut season for Robinson (12-12-24 in 45 GP), Columbus called Robinson up from Cleveland. He's played in just six games for the Blue Jackets this season, all of them coming since Jan 5, but has made a name for himself, and the coaching staff has noticed.
Tortorella had this to say of Robinson after the Blue Jackets fell 3-2 in Montreal:
"He's not afraid. He's not afraid to make plays. He had some mistakes, some turnovers, things that we can teach. He's around the puck, he seems to be involved, it seems to follow him (around) offensively. I thought he made some good plays. There's certainly some things we have to work on, but I love his speed, I love his length. He's just always involved when he's on his shift."
Robinson is scoreless through six games this season, but he's shown well for himself. He's been especially noticeable these past two games. He's a big, fast kid who is mostly readily comparable to a left-handed Josh Anderson, without the snarl.
Against Tampa, he played some minutes on the top power play in lieu of Nick Foligno. Two nights later against Montreal, he skated a career-high 15:17, and registered three shots on goal in each game. Even more telling, he played 4:52 in the third period alone in Montreal, a period in which the Blue Jackets were looking for an equalizer or the go-ahead goal.
"Just keep trying to progress."
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Against Montreal, he played primarily with Alexander Wennberg and Anthony Duclair, two players who have been largely disappointing this season. But it says something that Tortorella has Robinson playing on the third line and not the fourth.
These are tumultuous times for the Blue Jackets. The roster could look completely different in a week's time. Regardless of what happens, Robinson should be in the lineup every night. He's been solid (not great, but certainly far from the worst) from an analytics standpoint, and his play with and without the puck warrants a longer look.
Considering he wasn't even mentioned on Corey Pronman's organizational rankings, Robinson appears to be ahead of schedule. Robinson gives the team a speed element that is otherwise lacking, and as the playoff push intensifies, Robinson should remain in the lineup.
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