TORONTO — Forward Jason Robertson has found an extra gear since a mid-season trade to the Niagara IceDogs. And now he’s flirting with both a league scoring title and a chance for a deep run in the playoffs.
The 19-year-old Dallas Stars prospect started the 2018-19 Ontario Hockey League season with 38 points in 24 games with the Kingston Frontenacs, but has elevated those numbers even higher with the IceDogs, producing 2.25 points-per game in 20 contests with Niagara.
He was third in the league scoring race as of Wednesday with 83 points — despite missing a month of action to represent the United States at the world juniors — with just under six weeks to play in the regular season, while Niagara is ranked No. 10 in the 60-team Canadian Hockey League.
"I enjoyed my time in Kingston and last year we had the chance to go for it, but beginning of this year was a little stagnant and eventually when I was traded it was kind of a shot of adrenalin and gives me something to really push for and work for," said Robertson.
Robertson was acquired by Niagara on Nov. 20 alongside defenceman Jacob Paquette, a Nashville Predators draft pick in 2017.
It cost the IceDogs two roster players and 11 draft picks for their services.
"’Wow, these people really want me and Jacob,"’ Robertson said of his initial reaction when he was told about the trade. "It’s nice to feel wanted after a rough first half. It was nice to come Niagara and feel welcomed."
Robertson suited up for the first time with Niagara on Nov. 23 and has hit the scoresheet in 19 of 20 games, including six four-point performances, for 13 goals and 45 points.
The IceDogs are 17-2-1 with him in the lineup, while they went just 4-3-1 when he was away at the world junior championship, where he put up seven points in seven games for the Americans.
Niagara, which has nine NHL-drafted players on its roster, currently has the second-best power play in the OHL and leads the league with 228 goals for.
Robertson is a major part of the success, leading the OHL in both goals (15) and assists (36) while playing with the man advantage, but gives major credit to Akil Thomas for finding chemistry so fast with Niagara.
"Playing with new players, a lot of skilled players, we built off it right away me an Akil right when I got there," said Robertson.
Robertson, a six-foot-two 200-pound winger, has come a long way to make an impact on major junior.
Born in Los Angeles, Robertson started playing hockey in California as a youth but moved with his family to Michigan in 2009 when he was 10 to further the sport.
He played five seasons in Detroit’s minor hockey program before coming further north and joining the GTHL’s Don Mills Flyers for the 2014-15 season. The Frontenacs took notice and selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 OHL draft and he was a full-time player with Kingston to begin the next season.
"I wanted to make that commitment to play in the NHL and the family decision was to move to Michigan for hockey and so far it’s working out well for all of us," said Robertson, whose 17-year-old brother Nicholas plays for the Peterborough Petes and is eligible for this summer’s NHL draft.
Robertson’s love for hockey was sparked by his grandfather, an L.A. Kings fan, and by the age of four he would be going to NHL games with his family while also joining a hockey program in Ontario, Calif.
The decision to eventually move east was no small task, with four siblings tagging alongside for the journey. His father, an attorney, would commute back and forth to run his practice while the three boys in the family played hockey.
Robertson already has two 40-goal seasons on his resume from his time with Kingston and wants to build off those. But a league scoring title falls far behind his other personal ambitions.
"Obviously I like to up my game every year. I want to get better and when you get better the numbers get better," said Robertson.
"(But) it’s all numbers in the end, my ultimate goal is to go far in my hockey career and for the time being right now is Memorial Cup."
Ottawa 67’s forward Tye Felhaber currently leads the OHL with 91 points in 51 games. Forward Joachim Blichfield of the Portland Winterhawks tops the Western Hockey League with 91 points in 52 contests while Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Peter Abbandonato paces the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 84 points in 52 outings.
— Around the CHL: There is a new No. 1 team in the CHL rankings for the first time since October, with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (44-7-1) taking over the top spot from the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders (43-7-1), who fall to No. 2.
— Andre Boudrias, the first player to win the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s top scorer twice, died on Tuesday at the age of 75. He won the award in 1962 and 1964 when the league was known as the OHA. He went on to become a star with the Vancouver Canucks.
— The WHL’s Prince George Cougars fired head coach Richard Matvichuk Thursday morning and replaced him with general manager Mark Lamb on an interim basis.