While many Dallas Stars players opted to skip out on the 2021 World Championships in Latvia, standout rookies Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson did not. Both players accepted their invitations to play for Team USA after their first season in the NHL ended earlier than they had hoped. Oettinger has represented Team USA four times, including two U-18 World Championships and two World Junior Championships. He has won a medal in each of the four tournaments, including two gold and two bronze. Robertson has far less experience, playing in only his second international tournament in his young career. The 21-year-old forward played for the U.S. along with Oettinger in the 2019 World Junior Championships.
Both players are coming off extraordinary rookie seasons in the NHL. Robertson was second in points among rookies with 45 and led all rookies in assists with 28. He will most likely finish second to Kirill Kaprizov in the Calder Trophy voting. Oettinger impressed from the very beginning as he split time with Anton Khudobin. He finished with an 11-8-7 record, 2.36 goals against average (GAA), .911 save percentage (SV%) in 2021, seemingly overtaking Khudobin as the starter. He also finished every game which he started, a very impressive feat for such a young goalie (22).
The U.S. struggled early in the tournament before finding their game, but both Robertson and Oettinger have shined in every appearance they have made. Robertson, who has played in every game, began the tournament with a highlight-reel power play goal in a 2-1 loss to Finland. He was named the team’s player of the game and only got better from there. He followed that up with a two-point effort in the upset victory over Canada. Serving on the top line along with Trevor Moore and Conor Garland, Robertson has been a difference-maker in every game in the tournament. He has three goals and three assists in six games and has been held off the scoresheet just once. His top line has been arguably the most dangerous in the tournament as all three players have six points in as many games.
“I just try to keep the same detail and structure that I learned in my first rookie-year pro,” Robertson said. “Before that, some of the details were lacking. Here, I just want to bring what I learned, be a good pro for this team, and help this team win.”
Oettinger has not had as many chances to impress with Cal Petersen and Anthony Stolarz also sharing the net, but he has played very well in the limited time he has seen. His first action came in the second game versus Canada, as Stolarz left the game early with an injury. Oettinger stopped 26 of 27 shots in the 5-1 win for Team USA. This is a familiar sight for Stars fans, as Oettinger consistently played well when asked to step in during a game at the NHL level. It also shows just how calm and confident he is in his game, seemingly unshakeable no matter the situation or the stakes.
“You never know, as a goalie, when your opportunity is going to come,” Oettinger said in his postgame press conference. “I feel terrible for Stolie. I hope he’s doing okay. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. The guys did such a good job in front of me and made my life really easy. They really helped me get into the game. Once you get into it a little bit, it’s just another game. Credit to the guys in front of me and getting that goal support they gave me and the job we did on the PK. Can’t say enough good things about how they played in front of me.”
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Oettinger did not play again until Saturday’s game against Norway. This was his first start of the tournament, and he did not disappoint. Making 22 saves, he was a huge part of the tight win for the US. With his team up 2-0, his highlight reel save may have clinched the win for his team, something that Stars fans should get used to. Oettinger has now stopped 48 of 50 shots faced in the tournament.
After the loss to Finland, Team USA has won four straight. With the latest win over Germany on Monday, they improved to 5-0-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L), leaving them tied with Finland for first place in Group B with just one game remaining before the elimination rounds. They have clinched a berth in the quarterfinals and will play their final Preliminary game against Italy on Tuesday, June 1st.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!