Jason Robertson dropped to the second round of the 2017 National Hockey League draft because of his skating skill, or lack thereof. Six years later, the Dallas Stars left winger is on pace to set franchise records for goals and points and is set to appear in his first NHL All-Star game Saturday in South Florida.
“Obviously, you can see the numbers,” Robertson said of his 66 points on 33 goals and 33 assists through 51 games. “But the only thing I can do is go out there and perform. If I keep doing that, the numbers will come.”
Those statistics put him in league with Dallas’s first NHL superstar, Mike Modano, the flashy forward and former number one overall draft pick who was the face of the franchise when the Stars moved from Minnesota to Texas in 1993. The 23-year-old Robertson, nicknamed “Robo,” didn’t appear to be another Modano when Dallas drafted him. He was born in Southern California and is only the second Filipino American player in NHL history. (His younger brother, Nick, became the third in 2019, when he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs.)
“My goal is to just be consistent,” Robertson said. He was the NHL’s top goal scorer early in the season, putting the puck in the net 23 times in Dallas’s first 25 games. He’s currently tied for fifth in goals and tied for sixth in points. He became the fastest Dallas player to reach 30 goals in a season and the fastest to record sixty points. Robertson set another Dallas mark with an 18-game point streak—at least one goal or assist per game—running from late October to early December.
“Sometimes, you just kind of sit back and laugh at how good he is,” Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger said in December. For Robertson, at six three and two hundred pounds, skating is no longer a concern. He has quick hands, a broad field of vision, and tremendous confidence. During Robertson’s early-winter goal-scoring binge, a Canadian reporter asked if he felt at all surprised by his emergence as the breakout star of the NHL season—by suddenly being considered one of the top players in the world’s best hockey league. Robertson didn’t blink: “The process that management told you, if you do all your diligence in there, it pays off.”
Hugh Robertson played goalie while growing up in Detroit in the sixties, he told me before a recent Stars home game. Years later, after he’d begun a career as a real estate lawyer, Hugh recalled boasting to his young sons Michael, Jason, and Nick that he never gave up a rebound. He still laughs at the punch line: “They all went in.”
Hugh moved to Southern California after college, and when he went on to start his own family there, Hugh passed his love of ice hockey to his sons. Who else in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia had a backyard containing a rink of synthetic ice half the size of an NHL one? Competitive club hockey tournaments were hard to find at home, so the boys’ mother, Mercedes, spent weekends ferrying them across North America to play on different teams. “I sometimes looked and made sure I had the right child!” she told me. When Jason was ten, the Robertsons decided to move to the hockey hotbed of southeastern Michigan, where participating in elite youth hockey programs wouldn’t be such a challenge.
Mercedes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and the NHL media seized on the story line of Robertson’s Filipino heritage in a predominantly white league minutes after he was drafted. “Until right after the draft, they really didn’t identify themselves as anything other than California boys,” Mercedes said. “Jason, for sure, says now how Asian kids approach him, saying that they started hockey because of watching him.”
Robertson’s path to stardom hasn’t been smooth all the way. There were ups—he led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring for the 2018–19 season—but also downs—his one season with the Stars’ minor league affiliate near Austin got off to a poor beginning. “He started off slow, like most kids do,” Dallas general manager Jim Nill said. “And by halfway through the year, he was one of the elite scorers in the league. You’re like, ‘You know what? There’s something there.’ ”
With the Stars, Robertson ended last season on a hot streak, just in time for him to become a restricted free agent. Rather than sign a new deal immediately, he held out through all of training camp before agreeing to a contract extension worth $31 million over four years on the eve of regular-season play. Pete DeBoer, the Stars’ first-year head coach, was concerned. “It wasn’t a few days—it was going on weeks,” DeBoer recalled. “You always worry about him catching up. New coach, new systems.”
As soon as he rejoined the lineup, though, Robertson put his coach’s anxiety to bed. He logged an assist in Dallas’s season-opening win, a goal and two assists the next time out, and another assist in the Stars’ third game. Five games later, he began an eighteen-game point streak. “I joke with him to this day,” DeBoer said. “We should be calling the players’ association. They might eliminate all training camps based on what he’s done.”
Of the 25 forwards drafted before Robertson in 2017, two have scored more career NHL goals than his 91 in 179 games. Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (drafted fifth) has scored 118 in 292 games. New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (drafted first) has scored 99 in 348 games.
Jason Robertson, the number 39 pick who supposedly couldn’t skate and who spent his formative years being shuttled across greater Los Angeles in an RV to play as many games as possible, becoming an NHL All-Star? His dad smiled at the thought. “It’s the culmination of a long, hard journey,” he said. “We were talking about that at dinner. A lot of people have to work very hard to get where they are—‘Jay, you put in as much time at your craft as somebody who was going to law school.’ ”
The format for Saturday’s All-Star game will mirror that of NHL overtime periods, with each of the league’s four divisions fielding a team to play three-on-three in a one-night tournament. DeBoer will coach the Central Division squad, but three-man hockey hasn’t been the Dallas coach’s strong suit this season, with the Stars sporting a 2–8 record in games that have been decided in overtime. DeBoer said Robertson reminded him of that before they traveled to South Florida. “Hopefully,” Robertson said, “you’re not going to be coming up with tactics.”