Aside from the handful of veterans on the team, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a relatively young squad. Heck, even guys like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are still very early in what should be two extremely exciting NHL careers.
But having been around for a few years now, some of the Maple Leafs’ young players are playing veteran roles to some of the newcomers to the lineup – guys like Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks and Rasmus Sandin.
For Sandin, Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks was the sixth that he’s suited up for the Maple Leafs this season. Injuries and a start in the minors has kept him out the lineup up until recently. But, as Matthews points out in his post-game comments, it’s not a lack of skill or ability that had him out of the team’s lineup. Rather his poise and calmness with the puck is what landed him with the big club, finally, in the last string of regular season game – something Matthews also alluded to.
High Praise for Sandin
When asked about the play of Sandin, Matthews put it as simply as he could.
“He’s really good,” said the Maple Leafs’ star forward. “He slows the game down. He’s got so much poise and skates extremely well, sees the ice extremely well, makes great passes and, I mean, he’s been playing great for us.”
With Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin sitting on Thursday, the expectation was placed on Sandin to take on more responsibility for the Maple Leafs against the Canucks – something he handled well in just his sixth game this season.
Sandin played the third most minutes of any Maple Leafs player – nearly 22 minutes – and finished with an assist, a plus-two, two hits and three blocked shots. And the opportunities won’t stop there for the Maple Leafs’ young blueliner. In fact, with them clinching a playoff spot, the expectation should be to see what Sandin can bring to the lineup.
In 34 career games with the Maple Leafs, Sandin has a goal and 11 points, but this season he’s developed in a number of other aspects of the game. For starters, his ability to quaterback a power play has opened the door for him to see more time with the extra man.
He’s demonstrated a physicality that he was lacking a bit early on in his days with the Maple Leafs – as he showed with his hit on Winnipeg Jets’ forward Blake Wheeler – and his ability to walk the blue line in the offensive end with speed and confidence is showing the Maple Leafs what they have when it comes to young defensemen.
Either way, heading into the playoffs, it’ll be in Sandin’s hands whether or not he earns a spot in the Maple Leafs’ lineup. But if it were up to Matthews, Sandin might have a slight edge with his play as of late.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.