31 teams passed on OHL defenseman Carter Robertson. Robertson waited. 217 picks., but his name was never called. The Penguins organization quickly invited the 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenseman to camp and to their rookie tournament in September.
Robertson, 18, does not put up gaudy stats for the Ottawa 67’s. In two years, Robertson has scored only 27, total. In his rookie year, he posted nine points (1g, 8a). Last season, Robertson doubled his point total to 18 (5g, 13a). But the offensive contribution isn’t why the Penguins pounded on the prospect.
Robertson made perhaps the only body check, a solid thump on a puck carrier in the corner, in development camp,
“My agent told me to be gritty,” laughed Robertson during a conversation with Pittsburgh Hockey Now.
Last week, sources indicated to Pittsburgh Hockey Now that Robertson was one of a few prospects which the Penguins watched closely, and strongly hinted that Robertson was the mystery prospect who General Manager Jim Rutherford said could receive a contract if he performed well in development camp and the rookie tournament in September.
Robertson was ranked 61 by Central Scouting among North American skaters and received a B grade, which projects to be a second or third round choice. It could be quite the get for the Penguins to snag Robertson as an undrafted free agent. Former Penguins winger Conor Sheary was also an undrafted free agent, but he came through college hockey before joining the Penguins system.
The Penguins development camp was a three-on-three tournament, which doesn’t highlight hockey IQ and physicality as much as skating and skill. Nevertheless, Robertson drew praise from Penguins Director of Player Development Scott Young.
“I think he looked good out there. This format–he’s a big strong kid, and a pretty tough kid–he actually showed some skill out there, which is pretty good,” said Young.
Robertson wasn’t phased by the novelty format. According to Robertson, the 67’s played the most overtime games in the OHL, so he got a lot of ice time in the open-ice situations.
“It’s so good coming out here. I like being able to play with all of these guys, the university guys, there are guys who play in the (AHL). It’s just surreal to play with these guys,” Robertson said. To keep up with the more experienced players, Robertson had a simple formula, “Kind of play a simple game. Play them to their ability. Don’t think you’re any lower than them. You’re here for a reason.”
The reason the Penguins had Robertson was there were simple. The Penguins prospect pipeline is bare and especially barren for defenders. A defenseman who is able to demonstrate potential will have a clear path to the NHL, and time to develop without a logjam of competition.
There are few silver linings to an empty pipeline but the ability to find a diamond-in-rough. Robertson, the projected high round selection, may just be one.