The Dallas Stars are clinging to a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference as the 2021-22 NHL regular season enters its stretch run. If they end up securing that spot there are a lot of things you can look at for why it happened. A healthy Tyler Seguin after he missed almost all of the 2020-21 season and a complete 180 on their overtime and shootout fortunes are tops among them.
But you can also look at the emergence of second-year standout forward Jason Robertson, who has not only become one of their most impactful players, but also one of the most exciting and must-see players in the NHL.
Robertson burst onto the scene a year ago as a rookie and really started to make a name for himself in the second half of the season when he gave Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov a run for the Calder Trophy. He did not end up winning, but he put himself on the map and set some fairly high expectations for his sophomore season. He has not only met those expectations for the Stars, he might be blowing them out of the water.
As of Wednesday he is averaging more than a point-per-game offensively and scoring at a 42-goal pace per 82 games. His 34 goals lead the Stars, while his 68 points are second and just five points back of Joe Pavelski even though he has missed eight games. He is also one of the most productive 5-on-5 players in the league, averaging more than 2.89 points per 60 minutes, a rate that places him among the top-20 forwards in the entire league while also scoring a league-leading 10 game-winning goals.
But it is not just the production that makes him, forgive the pun, a star for Dallas.
He is also an elite possession driver and one of the most skilled, exciting players in the league with an extensive list of creative, highlight reel goals. He can score from literally anywhere in the offensive zone, including from below the goal line off of goalies.
Then there are also the quick hands in close.
A significant chunk of his goals this season are highlight reel plays.
But as exciting as that is, the key is still being a great all-around player that can drive the offense and there is no one player that has done more for the Stars in that regard than Robertson this season.
For much of the season Dallas’ offense has been driven by its top line of Robertson, Pavelski, and Roope Hintz.
In nearly 700 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season that trio has outscored opponents by a 45-32 margin and dominated pretty much every possession metric there is, from shot attempts share, to scoring chances, to expected goals. It is quite simply one of the best lines in the league. When none of those three are on the ice this season Dallas has been outscored by a 64-88 margin, which is not great. Even with a healthy Seguin and a strong season from him depth has still been a problem, and a lot of the Stars’ offense rests on the Robertson line (and the power play, where Robertson also plays a key role).
All three players are outstanding players on their own merits. But the effectiveness of Hintz and Pavelski (both as a duo and individually) takes a dramatic and sudden drop this season when Robertson is not on the ice with them. With/without stats are not always perfect because there are a lot of variables that go into them (including something as simple as sample sizes), but there is still something to be said for a player having that much of a profound impact on the success or failure of a line.
No matter what happens with the Stars this season (playoffs or no playoffs) it is pretty clear that they have a new cornerstone player to build around in Robertson, and he was part of a draft class (2017) that is going to significantly change the long-term outlook of the franchise. That 2017 class produced four players (Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, and Jacob Peterson) that are all key players for the Stars’ present and future. Typically an NHL draft class is a success if you produce even one, and maybe two, regular NHLers. But to get four potential players that are not only regulars, but potential impact players, is a massive win.
They might be what leads this Stars team back to the playoffs, and Robertson is at the head of that class.