Last summer, the Dallas Stars came within two wins of winning the Stanley Cup. This year, the Stars don't even look destined to make the playoffs.
To say 2021 has been a struggle is an understatement. Starting goalie Ben Bishop has been out for the entire season with a lingering knee injury and Tyler Seguin hasn't suited up with a hip injury, leaving the Stars to make do without two of the club's most important players.
A long playoff run doesn't appear to be in the cards for the Stars, especially with Nashville playing so well as of late, but at least there's a bright spot: they found another gem in Jason Robertson.
Robertson currently sits fourth in Stars' scoring with 22 points in 28 games as a 21-year-old rookie. Selected 39th overall by the Stars in 2017, the club made no effort to rush his progress: he played a full four years in the OHL, a season in the AHL and now is full-time in a top-six role for the Stars. Nobody on the Stars is close to touching Robertson's team-leading 16 points at five-a-side play, with the young winger being the only player to break the 10-assist barrier with 11 thus far. He's doing this all while averaging just 12:19 in 5-on-5 ice time a game, good for ninth on the team, but easily giving him the lead in points-per-60 with 2.78.
So, yeah, he's darn efficient. And after finding other important players like Roope Hintz in the second round in 2015, the team's drafting choices outside of the first round have definitely paid off.
Having Seguin out for the season to date and with Alex Radulov missing time due to injuries, too, Robertson has had extra opportunities to earn his ice time and has done nothing but impress. The highlight was a four-assist effort against Chicago on March 9, but he's followed it up with a pair of two-point performances in the meantime. Since that night, where he only had 14 minutes of ice time, Robertson has played at least 19 minutes in seven of the past 12 games, including six of the past seven. That extra responsibility has been good for Robertson's confidence, and, as a result, a nice bonus for a team that needs something to get excited about right now.
At this point, the Calder Trophy still looks like Kirill Kaprizov's to lose. The 25-year-old came in as the most hyped rookie after showcasing his talents over the past half-decade in the KHL and has been exactly as advertised. Per Natural Stat Trick, Kaprizov (3.09 points-per-60) is the only player to beat Robertson in that category among rookies and New Jersey's Nathan Bastian is the only freshman forward (54.78) to edge out Robertson's 54.61 Corsi-for percentage - although Bastian is more of a depth guy.
You have to take more than just raw points into the equation when evaluating the top choices for the Calder Trophy, and the play of goaltenders Kevin Lankinen and Alex Nedeljkovic and defensemen K'Andre Miller and Ty Smith has been quite noticeable, too. But Robertson has produced so much for a team on the outside looking in while not getting as much ice time as someone like Kaprizov or Ottawa's Tim Stützle
There are genuine concerns about Robertson's skating, and if he could figure out a way to improve both his top speed and acceleration, we'd be talking about a perennial first-line scoring winger. His skating has improved since his junior days, but it's still not at the level you'd want to see out of a player with his overall skillset. At this point, a 45-50 point player is fantastic value for the Stars, especially as the stars continue to age and injuries continue to occur.
In all, Robertson's rookie season has been everything the Stars could have asked for. Miro Heiskanen came fourth in Calder voting in 2019, Denis Guryanov received some votes a year ago and now it's Robertson's turn to keep the streak alive. This still looks like it's Kaprizov's trophy to lose, but the Stars won't care: they've found an important piece of the puzzle for the team's long-term future, no matter what path the team takes to get there.