The Insider: Rookie Rearguard
One of my favorite things about having the privilege of being involved with the Western Hockey League is having the opportunity to watch a young player develop in his formative hockey years. The Oil Kings have been blessed with some fantastic players over the years and watching them from wide eyed 15 year-old kids at their first camps until they move on as mature young men is a unique experience. The latest in the line of highly touted players to watch is 16 year-old defenceman Matthew Robertson. His experience with the Oil Kings, however, goes further back than draft day or his first camp, as he is the younger brother of Tyler Robertson, who suited up for the team from 2014-2017. As a local kid from Sherwood Park, the brother of a player, and the son of a billet family, Matthew has been around the Oil King culture for years already, and it was fitting when the team named him as their first pick in the 2016 bantam draft.
“It’s a privilege, it’s crazy…I’m almost speechless,” Robertson told me recently when I asked him to go back to draft day. He was long on the Oil Kings radar and things fell into place for both player and the team. “I was watching TV on the day of the draft and when I heard my name called, my family and I were ecstatic.”
I think the Oil Kings were also ecstatic at the idea of adding a blueliner with the pedigree of Robertson to their already deep young core. He has the chance to mature and develop alongside a group, while all relatively young, can also insulate him a bit. Although if the first 12 games of the year are any indication, he doesn’t need to be insulated as he is already a regular in the top four.
“He’s a pretty special player, I think everyone recognizes that when you see him,” smiled head coach Steve Hamilton. “For a 16 year-old player, he’s got poise and he makes plays out there too, he quietly goes about his business. He’s a good teammate, a low maintenance, zero ego kind of kid. I think he’s got a chance to be a real impact player in this league.”
Hamilton would know, having helped develop a long line of defencemen with the Oil Kings. Going back through the years he has worked with the likes of Mark Pysyk, Griffin Reinhart, Keegan Lowe, Cody Corbett and now along with Ryan Marsh oversees a young group that will be the backbone of this team. One of the challenges for a coach in his position is how much responsibility to mete out to a player like Robertson.
“It’s a little bit like adding a spoonful at a time,’ Hamilton explained. “Just put a little bit more on his plate and see if it jives with him. You don’t want young players to feel overwhelmed or feel like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. That’s a lot to handle. When you have a 16 year-old who is well ahead of the curve you want to make sure you find the right balance of responsibility and the right balance of pulling back at times.”
Robertson has steadily seen his responsibility increased and is now paired with Will Warm on one of the team’s top units and he has an increased role on the special teams. He is taking the enhanced workload in stride, challenging other team’s top players defensively and even contributing at the other end of the rink.
“It’s just building my confidence and getting some experience,” he told our broadcast on Wednesday night. “Just watching other teams best players, you can pick up on things that can help you as a player.”
Outside of his duties as an Oil King regular, he will soon have a chance to represent his country at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge which runs from November 5th to 11th in Northern B.C. He is one of 23 WHL players that will suit up for one of the three Canadian entries in the tournament.