I remember when I first took notice of how good a young defenseman the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Rasmus Sandin might become. It was during the Sandin’s successful World Junior Tournament during early January 2020.
However, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even before the World Juniors, Sandin has shown his talent during the Maple Leafs raining camp; however, at the World Juniors he caught Craig Button’s attention, who tweeted that Sandin was the best defenseman at the tournament – by a long shot.
Sandin Named Best World Juniors Defenseman
Obviously, others agreed with Button. Sandin was named the best defenseman of the tournament, scoring three goals and seven assists in seven games and helping lead his Swedish team take home the bronze medal.
Button’s especially good at evaluating young prospects, but his high praise wasn’t singular. Other hockey commentators noted Sandin’s skill and some reported that hey believed the Maple Leafs should make Sandin part of their lineup. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston agreed with Button overviewed Sandin’s World Junior success and predicted that Sandin would join the Maple Leafs defensemen last season.
That was a year ago, and it didn’t happen.
This season, after Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas had added both T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian to help for the team’s defense, it looked as if Sandin would spend his season with the AHL Toronto Marlies. But, when Bogosian went down with a shoulder injury on April 20, Sandin stepped in. He’s now likely never to leave.
There’s a Lot to Look Forward to With Sandin
Sandin’s play suggests that Maple Leafs fans are in for a treat. There’s a lot to look forward to watching this young star become part of the team’s defense. Although Sandin didn’t play during the final three games of the team’s regular season because the Maple Leafs were engaged in salary-cap constraints, he had scored four assists in nine games with the team during the 2020-21 season.
During the Maple Leafs’ Game 2 5-1 win on Saturday, Sandin scored on the power play when his shot from point hit the back of the net. Although Game 2 was a treat for Sandin and fans, it had come after a difficult Game 1 where Sandin’s mistake led to the Canadiens’ game-winning short-handed goal.
After Game 2, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reflected on Sandin’s play by noting that, indeed, Sandin made a mistake on the game-winning goal. However, Keefe noted that “his mistake is probably that he didn’t go off the ice on the way back for that puck, so he doesn’t tire in that instance. That was the mistake.”
Game Film Shows that Sandin’s Game 1 Was Better than He Originally Thought
Keefe also admitted that, after Game 1 he had gone back to watch the game and break down the play and when he studied the game, he was able to pick out “a lot of positive things” that Sandin did.
Specifically, Keefe noted that “I came away from watching the first game in its totality feeling a lot better about his (Sandin’s) game — not just focusing on one mistake, which we tend to do a lot. Certainly, the media does that, but even coaches tend to do that at times. That is why it is important to take the time the next day to break it down.”
Keefe then hinted he predicted correctly that, “with that experience of playing in that first game — it is so fast and physical — I thought he would be better today. I just think, with Rasmus, the payoff can be really big for us in terms of his skill set and what he can bring. That requires a little extra patience on our side. I just really had belief he was going to be better today than he was in the first game.”
What Next With Sandin?
We’ll see how Sandin does over the next few games of the series. But whatever happens for the remainder of the season, there’s little doubt that Sandin will be a part of the Maple Leafs’ plans for a long time. With Morgan Rielly on contract for only another season, is it out of the realm of possibility that Sandin will be able to handle a top-two defensive pairing even as early as next season? Or, the season after?
In fact, is Sandin good enough to allow Rielly to sign elsewhere? Every day Sandin gains more experience, he grows into a more highly-regarded defenseman who’ll see regular duty next season and become an important piece of the Maple Leafs’ defense for season’s to come.
Maple Leafs’ Longtime Fan Stan Smith’s Insights
Stan Smith, who’s a great Maple Leafs’ fan who breaks down the team’s play each game and has watched this Maple Leafs’ team for many season’s, suggests “I’ve never seen a rookie defenseman, and one that was only 19 when he first stepped on the ice for the Leafs, impress me as much as Sandin has in his first 50 games.”
Smith also notes that Sandin’s “play with, and without the puck is mature.”
Smith’s last word is that “I seriously think Sandin has the potential to be a better all around defenseman than Rielly.”
Is Smith right? If so, welcome to the era of Rasmus Sandin.
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