Working Hard to Secure Full-Time Spot in NHL, PU Alum Robinson Making Progress for Columbus
TRUE BLUE: Eric Robinson skates for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018 action. This winter, former Princeton University men’s hockey standout Robinson ’18 is working to secure a permanent spot on Columbus, having tallied five goals and four assists in 30 games so far this season. (Photo by John Russell, Courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
Eric Robinson’s improvement is continuing in the NHL.
The 2018 Princeton University graduate put himself on scouts’ radar over his college career and now is trying to secure a permanent spot on one of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I definitely feel comfortable,” said the Blue Jackets left wing, a 6’2, 201-pound native of Bellmawr, N.J.
“I feel like I belong. It’s still early on and the on-going process of learning and playing consistently is still the biggest thing. It’s a long season so it’s not being able to do it 10 or 20 times a year, but being able to get up and be ready for 82 games and be able to consistently do things right is what I’m learning and it’s an important factor in playing.”
After playing in 13 games last season with the Blue Jackets and splitting time in Cleveland of the American Hockey League, Robinson, 24, has played in 30 games in 2019-20 for a Columbus team on the rise. A 2-1 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday gave the Blue Jackets their fifth straight win and seventh win in eight games and brought them within one point of the third-place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
“We’ve just kind of bound together here,” said Robinson, who had a goal in the streak during Columbus’s 4-3 win over Anaheim on January 7.
“We’re playing as a team. Everyone is bought in. Playing hard is our team motto and it’s something we pride ourselves on. When we’re working hard and everyone is bought into the forecheck and doing the little things right, that’s what’s led to our success here.”
Having tallied five goals and four assists in his 30 games while playing on the third and fourth lines for Columbus, Robinson has recently been on lines that include Riley Nash, Jakob Lilja, and Nick Foligno, and he’s finding a role that he can fill.
“I got the opportunity compared to last year,” said Robinson.
“I was fortunate to be able to score some goals and that increases confidence and maybe buys you more time in the lineup. That’s just more opportunity to show what you can do and show you can help the team and be a regular, consistent player in the lineup. Every game you feel that much more comfortable. If you feel like you’re playing well and getting more games, you’re going to feel more a part of it and more comfortable in the lineup as the games go on.”
With steep competition for playing time at the NHL level, Robinson is intent on proving that he can help Columbus.
“A couple things I’m focusing on now are trying to improve the physicality of my game,” said Robinson.
“If you get on the forecheck and you’re able to play physical on a defenseman, or if you’re finishing your checks anywhere on the ice, it’s going to help the team and it’s going to back guys off and create more space for yourself. You have to make sure you’re taking care of your own end. If you’re playing a third or fourth line role, that’s the most important thing for you is to take care of that first and then chip in offensively when you can. So making sure as a winger, I’m good along the walls and not turning pucks over in key areas of the ice.”
Robinson’s development at Princeton gave him the opportunity to play professionally. He wasn’t a highly touted professional prospect when he took the short trip from his Garden State home to start at Princeton, but he played more and delivered more each successive season for the Tigers.
“I think it goes hand-in-hand with our team improving too,” said Robinson.
“The new coaching staff came in and there’s obviously a period where there’s going to be some rebuilding and gelling to do with new faces. The players were new, the coaches were new, and we were trying to figure it out. Each year the team improved in my four years. That was helpful for me to naturally improve individually too.”
Robinson’s freshman year was an adjustment with two goals and two assists in 27 games. He played 31 games and had 11 points (7 goals, 4 assists) as a sophomore. In his junior year, he delivered 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists) in 34 games, and then as a senior captain, he had 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) as the Tigers won the ECAC Hockey championship. Robinson was named to the ECACH All-Tournament team. Barely one week later, he signed with the Blue Jackets and made his NHL debut on April 7, 2018.
“It was pretty crazy to think about,” said Robinson. “It was upsetting when my collegiate career came to an end, but then it was pretty shortly after that I was making a decision on where to sign, and two weeks later I was playing a game. It all happened pretty quick. Looking back, it was a bit of a whirlwind, but something I’ll never forget. Then being able to go back to school after that with that experience was just amazing.”
Returning to his college graduation as an NHL player was something that wasn’t a given when Robinson decided to come to Princeton.
“It was huge,” said Robinson. “When I went in my freshman year, I wasn’t anywhere close to where I needed to be to play after college. Taking the four years for me was huge. I needed every year to improve and be ready to play professional after college. I think that was an advantage for me because I was able to be a bit older rather than going the Junior route. And the coaching staff was great for me at Princeton, teaching me different things to get me ready for my post-college career.”
He credits the Tiger program for helping him find how to best use his strengths as he had to find a way to make himself stand out for pro scouts.
“I think it was using my speed to my advantage,” said Robinson.
“I like to pride myself on my speed and I think my legs are one of my bigger assets of my game. Rather than skating myself into trouble or skating into bad areas or out of good ice, I think I really learned how to create that offense with my legs and knowing when to use it, when you can beat a guy, when to pull up. It was really learning how to use my biggest asset.”
While Robinson still keeps tabs on the Princeton program that has some of his former Tiger teammates still playing in it, his main focus is on doing his job for the Blue Jackets.
“It’s definitely exciting because it’s something you’ve dreamed of your whole life,” said Robinson. “It’s something you have to keep an even head about because it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You have to stay at an even keel and just keep playing. You get sent down at camp or sent down during the year, or if something doesn’t go your way, it’s easy to get too emotional about it. You can’t let yourself get in your own head too much. You have to keep playing and keep focusing on what you’re really trying to accomplish. For me, that’s being a full-time NHL player, and it’s something I’m working on every day.”
Starting the season by giving the Blue Jackets a little extra scoring punch, Robinson scored three goals in nine days in mid-November. Points have come less frequently since December, but he has been getting regular shifts and he hasn’t had a minus for a game since December 27. He is trying to follow the same path of improvement that he did at Princeton as he looks to secure his place in the NHL.
“That’s basically the goal – trying to cement yourself,” said Robinson.
“You go in every day with the right attitude to work and learn and become that pro on and off the ice, being ready to play every day, being prepared off the ice, being a good person off the ice, just all the things you pick up from the older guys that have been around a long time there. They’re true NHLers and true professionals. It’s kind of cool to see every day and I’m just trying to do my best to mimic that.”