Growing up in an athletic family gave Kraken draft pick Tucker Robertson an early taste of competition.
One grandfather won an American Hockey League minor professional championship in the 1950s, the other was a Canadian Football League Hall of Fame receiver. His mother won a Canadian university basketball title, his father played NCAA hockey, two of his four older sisters played college basketball, and two others are on scholarship to U.S. schools, one for track and the other for soccer.
“Oh, it got a little competitive,” Robertson, 19, a former winger turned center with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, said of their backyard sports endeavors in their Toronto hometown. “Not in hockey, because my sisters never played hockey. But in basketball, football, baseball, all kinds of other things.”
But after honing his athletic skills to where he scored a team-leading 41 goals for Peterborough this past season, there remains an area in which Robertson has struggled badly to compete: the perception game.
Robertson went undrafted last year after missing a season due to the OHL’s pandemic shutdown, then still found himself unchosen by Round 4 last week in Montreal before the Kraken finally selected him with the 123rd overall pick.
“I really wanted to be picked, and thought I deserved to be picked,” said Robertson, one of 31 prospects and invitees in town this week for the team’s first development camp, which began Monday and runs through Thursday at the Kraken Community Iceplex. “So it was definitely a little nerve-wracking.”
In his mind, not to mention quite a few coaches and scouts, he should have gone higher. Some had him pegged a potential second-rounder, but the stigma of being an “overage” draft prospect in his second go-round might have hurt him.
“I think I should have gone higher than the fourth round after the season I had,” Robertson said. “I think a lot of it was due to my birth date. Being an overage player, sometimes they tend to get overlooked.”
Players must be 18 by Sept. 15 to be eligible for that year’s draft. Robertson, who has a late-June birthday, had turned 18 a month before last year’s draft and was only four months older than some first-time-eligible players this year — some of who had inferior statistics yet were selected higher.
The perception being: Second-year draft-eligible players are older and had an easier time compiling statistics against younger competition. Still, as Robertson sat in Montreal waiting to hear his name, he tried to stay positive.
“I knew it wasn’t going to change anything for me in the long run,” he said. “I was still going to do the same things and get to the same end goal.”
His and the family’s nerves were already frayed just getting to the Bell Centre for Friday’s second day of the draft, when Robertson was most likely to be selected. His mother, Kelly, had driven down with one sister and dropped off a suit for Robertson to wear at a separate hotel where he was staying.
But then a nationwide cellphone carrier outage in Canada prevented Robertson from connecting with his mother to find out what she’d done with the suit. They missed each other crossing paths walking to the other’s respective hotels before finally connecting on FaceTime. Then, once Robertson was told where the suit was and returned to meet up with his mother, hotel employees couldn’t locate it.
With the draft already under way, Robertson’s agent pulled off his own suit and shoes and was about to give them to him to wear before his mother went in the hotel’s storage room and located the missing garments. Robertson dressed, and they scrambled to the arena, arriving as the second round ended.
Meanwhile, his father, Gary, had driven down separately Friday morning with two other sisters, stopping midway through the five-hour trip to get gas and food.
But the cellphone-carrier outage was wreaking havoc with debit-card machines, causing huge lineups inside. They finally got going again but needed to check into their hotel and change and didn’t arrive at the draft until the fourth round had begun.
It was impeccable timing: Three picks later, Robertson’s name was called.
“We were walking over and talking on the way and they were going, ‘Oh, I hope Tucker doesn’t go before we get there,’ ” Gary said Monday in a phone interview. “But I was saying, ‘Well, I kind of hope Tucker does go before we get there, because that means he’s going a little earlier in the draft.’ ”
But that didn’t happen. His mother said some Peterborough coaches and the team’s president came over and spent much of the third round talking to Robertson, helping to “lighten the mood” and keep his mind off the fact he hadn’t been selected.
“We were fairly confident,” she said. “But still, sitting there and knowing what happened last year and knowing he’s considered a second-year-eligible kid, we were a little nervous.
“But he had a good attitude. He just kept saying, ‘If I don’t get called, I’m going to play in this league no matter what.’ ”
Robertson had planned to play junior hockey in Sweden during the OHL shutdown, but that league also halted play. Being snubbed in the ensuing draft was “really frustrating,” because he knew some players who were picked and felt he was as good or better.
“I knew I was better than an undrafted player,” he said. “I knew I wanted to show a lot of people that. It just made me play harder and train harder.”
He’d been working on the position switch, taking advice from coaches and older centermen on the team. It all came together in a dream 2021-22 season, with Robertson finishing 11th among OHL goal-scorers.
“I think I’m really versatile, and I’m a good learner,” he said.
He still keeps a Calder Cup ring at his Toronto home, inherited from his late grandfather, Bob, who won the AHL title with the Providence Reds in 1956. His other grandfather, Whit Tucker, whom he still chats sports with regularly, has two Grey Cup rings from CFL championships with the Ottawa Rough Riders.
Now, amid a crowded family sports pedigree, he’d like to forge his own pro legacy in the same state where his sister, Ireland, now attends Gonzaga University on a soccer scholarship.
“I’m getting my chance,” he said. “And I intend to make the most of it.”