TORONTO – This is an unadorned opportunity for Rasmus Sandin
In fact, if you’re a 19-year-old prospect who is eager for a breakthrough in the NHL, you really can’t expect to improve.
the Toronto Maple Leafs, for her two best defenders, suddenly needs Sandin to chew minutes. And if it’s good enough, there will be an opportunity to play many of them in the absence of Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly
His second NHL call comes with no artificial limit on game time or concerns about contract control, although the Maple Leafs were never too worried that he reached the threshold of 10 games this season and started the clock on his contract. Entry-level.
That is sure to happen now with Sandin about to dress for his seventh game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, while Muzzin continues to wear a walking boot and Rielly faces at least an eight-week recovery of a fractured foot.
“I feel prepared and I’m anxious for tonight,” Sandin said after an optional morning skate.
It will start in the third match with Cody Ceci, but that is barely written in stone. Until recently, Travis Dermott occupied that place in the bottom pair and is one of the left-handed shots now ahead of Sandin in the rotation. The other is Martin Marincin, who has healthier scratches (24) than the games played (14) with the Leafs this season.
It’s not hard to imagine Sandin climbing in the lineup if he plays well.
“We have some question marks there, right?” said head coach Sheldon Keefe, who oversaw the first season of Sandin’s development in the American Hockey League. “How is Sandin going to adapt again? And how will she pair up with Ceci, who she has never played with? And how are the other couples going to work?
“I think when you have two important pieces like this, like us, you are going to have some new things that you are trying and new opportunities that you are giving to the boys. We will have to monitor it.”
Keep in mind that Sandin arrives brimming with confidence after a dominant performance for Sweden that earned him the highest defense honors in the world youth tournament. He has also recorded more than 25 minutes per night in all situations for the Marlies and has 15 points to show in 21 games.
A key principle of his game is a balance that belies his age and his relative inexperience.
The teammates were excited about the calm and confidence he had after breaking camp with the Leafs in the fall. Sandin does not have an obvious elite tool: he is not the fastest, nor the most physically imposing, nor is he known for having the hardest hit, but he shows a general awareness of the situation that will probably make us one day ask ourselves what others were called 12 defenders the stage before the Leafs recruited him in 29th place overall in 2018.
What remains to be seen is how impressive it is prepared to be here and now.
Only a small handful of his companions have done it. The last five seasons of the NHL have only seen 10 defenders play at least 40 games as teenagers, and Sandin will not be the eleventh, with his 20th birthday on March 7.
But it has had an advantage in the development of many of the Americans born in 2000 in the form of 78 AHL experience games. He even noticed a difference after being sent back to the Marlies in mid-October.
“I think I only gained confidence, I feel. That’s the most important thing,” he said of the place where he grew up. “I just feel more comfortable out there and I’m just playing my game.”
Sandin’s first period with the Leafs basically ended with a shoulder to the face of Justin Abdelkader of Detroit. That left him bloody and caused a bit of soul searching within the organization, where they began to weigh the merits of just playing their best prospect 12 minutes per game while they subjected him to those situations.
The bet here is that much more has now been supported. There is even the possibility of eliminating penalties and seeing some time in the power game since Rielly and Muzzin record minutes of key special teams.
“I mean it’s going to be great here,” Rielly said. “I think it is important that you have confidence and that you go out and play true to your style of play. I think you are an outstanding player with a great career on the horizon.”
“I think if that starts tonight, that’s very exciting.”
The door opened wide for Sandin, and there will be nothing to stop him if he is ready to move forward.