It's not a make-or-break year for Eric Robinson.
But it sure does feel that way.
After months of speculation, the Columbus Blue Jackets opted to protect Robinson in the NHL's Expansion Draft in July. The move paid off, as the Seattle Kraken chose defenseman Gavin Bayreuther, who is already back with Columbus after the Kraken let him become a free agent just days after he was drafted. Shrug emoji.
Shortly after the expansion draft, the Blue Jackets gave Robinson a contract extension, with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen identifying the forward as someone the organization believes "has just begun to realize his potential."
"As he continues to improve, (he) will have a significant impact on our hockey club moving forward."
With the Blue Jackets not expected to compete for a playoff spot this year (I think they'll be better than most people think, but that's for another time), and the roster turnover over the last number of months, this will be the best chance yet for Robinson to showcase himself and prove that he can make that significant impact that Kekalainen believes he will.
Age, believe it or not, could also be a factor. It feels like Robinson is one of the young and developing players on the team. The reality is that, at age 26, he's actually one of the older players on the roster. There are only four forwards who are a lock to make the roster that are older than Robinson: Jakub Voracek (32), Gustav Nyquist (32), Boone Jenner (28), and Sean Kuraly (28). Max Domi and Oliver Bjorkstrand are the same age as Robinson, but it still puts Robinson in the "older half", so to speak, of the forward corp. If he's going to have that bust-out season, this would be the time to do it.
There are some signs that Robinson is poised for a good year. His time on ice was up over a minute from the 2019-20 season, he doubled up on his assists total, and was an impressive +6 in the plus/minus column. That was good enough to lead the team in that category.
Robinson may also benefit from the change behind the bench. Former head coach John Tortorella did speak highly of Robinson, and he was one of only four players (two of those players, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones, are no longer with the team) to skate in all 56 games last season. But Robinson was shifted around on a very regular basis, and the argument could be made that the lack of chemistry could have translated to decreased production.
New head coach Brad Larsen realizes how often this happened, and while he didn't give any clear signal of what his plans are for Robinson, he acknowledges that Robinson is an improving player who can make an impact.
"Robinson's a guy who moved up and down our lineup a lot," said Larsen over the summer. "A lot of times, he'd be moving up and he'd be helping his linemates just with his speed."
"One thing about Robby, he's put the work in. He's working hard at his game, his passing, his shooting, his release, all that stuff. He's one that stands out."
It's that hard work that has given Robinson this chance. It'll take more hard work to capitalize on it.
And that seems like the kind of challenge that is right up Robinson's road.