Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sandin, Mikheyev, Robertson, Gauthier

The Toronto Maple Leafs extras traveled into Montreal on Sept. 23 and totally beat down, 3-0, on the Montreal Canadiens, who were playing with a fuller complement of their regulars than the Maple Leafs. Nic Petan had two assists; Russian rookie Egor Korshkov had two goals, and Michael Hutchinson looks like the back-up to starter Freddy Andersen after he made 38 saves for the shutout.

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Maple Leafs played few, if any, of its regular players and still dominated. What that says, who knows. It’s still preseason. But, the Maple Leafs have good players. Some might not make this team, but other NHL teams are watching so looking good in preseason might lead to a position on another team.

Related: Matthews As Maple Leafs Captain Isn’t a Sure Pick

As noted, it’s preseason and news and rumors are still coming out of training camp. In this post, I will try to cover some of those.

Item One: Rasmus Sandin Looks Really Strong

Rasmus Sandin is 19 years old and looks like he has exactly what the Maple Leafs desire most – a roster player on a cheap, entry-level contract ($894,167 for the next three seasons). Sandin is making a case that he’s ready for prime time, and he looks to be the most skilled defenseman for the team’s third pair.

In fact, the word from the Maple Leafs training camp is that, when the team is grouped for practice, stars and Maple Leafs regulars (Marner, Matthews, Nylander, etc.) go on one side and the Marlies’ prospects on the other. Sandin has been grouped with the regular players. That probably means there’s a good chance Sandin will make his first NHL start on Oct. 2.

Toronto Maple Leafs Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Teammate Morgan Rielly noted how well his defensive colleague had been playing, “He’s been outstanding. He’s a perfect example of a guy who worked hard during the off-season to prepare, came into camp with confidence and played really well.”

Rielly should know what he’s talking about. Like Sandin, he jumped into the Maple Leafs lineup as a teenager in 2013 and stuck. Rielly wrapped it up by saying, “We love having him. He’s a great player, and he’s got a really bright future.”

If making the team is based solely on play and skill, Sandin is likely to stick with the team. That said, teams sometimes simply move someone because they’re stuck in a position where they cannot move anyone else. Sandin is waivers-exempt and moving him back to the Toronto Marlies isn’t a risk. I’m hoping Sandin takes up residence on the back line and, if he does, I’m predicting he’ll stay there a long time.

Item Two: Matthews Assesses Ilya Mikheyev’s Play

It didn’t take Auston Matthews much time to begin raving about the Maple Leafs new KHL import Ilya Mikheyev. And, he suggested that Mikheyev (Mickey, as he’s called) played like former countryman Pavel Datsyuk, who had 14 great seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. That’s high praise.

Related: Beauts vs. Brock Badgers: What You Need to Know

Matthews said specifically, “He plays a lot like Datsyuk. He has that reach, has a similar paddle on him. Really shifty, strong on the puck, good on his edges. I was really impressed.”

When center Alex Kerfoot hollers “Mickey!,” that means he wants the 6-foot-2 Russian to pass him the puck. Kerfoot, like Matthews, is impressed with his new linemate, calling him “a complete package.” Given these two players’ accolades, it seems that Mickey has a strong chance of making the Maple Leafs roster on Kerfoot’s third-line wing.

Bernhard Ebner, Ilya Mikheyev
Maple Leafs’ Ilya Mikheyev (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Artur Lebedev)

Mikheyev is big, fast, and plays an intelligent game. He looks good in even-strength situations and gives the Maple Leafs’ third line a boost. This third line could again be one of the best in the NHL, just like it was last season with stalwart Nazem Kadri skating at center.

Item Three: Nicholas Robertson Signs a Three-Year, Entry-Level Contract

On Sept. 19t, the Maple Leafs announced that the club has signed Nicholas Robertson to a three-year entry-level contract. The 18-year-old appeared in 54 games with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes during the 2018-19 season and scored 55 points (27 goals, 28 assists). Robertson was drafted by the Maple Leafs during the second round (53rd overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Related: Maple Leafs Among Canadian Teams Looking to Take Next Step

After Robertson had attended the NHL Scouting Combine, he announced: “I told my dad Toronto is where I wanted to go to. I’d rather be a 53rd pick than be a late first-round pick because Toronto is the best spot out of any organization in the NHL to develop. It’s the best city and best fans and I’m so happy to be part of it.”

Robertson got his wish.

Item Four: Fredrik Gauthier Still Has a Place on Babcock’s Team

For fans who wonder about the status of 24-year-old, 6-foot-5, 235-pound Fredrik Gauthier after the arrival of Jason Spezza during the offseason, the answer is that he’s still around. And, if Babcock’s words are to be believed – and why wouldn’t they – Gauthier still has a place in Babcock’s bottom-six.

Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Gauthier
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Frederik Gauthier (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Gauthier’s play and potential have made a strong case to keep his center position on the fourth-line. It seemed, when Spezza joined the team, that if “The Goat” played at all it would not be at center. Spezza, if only for a season, would center the fourth line, take face-offs, and perhaps even become a leader on the second-unit power-play.

But Gauthier has two things Spezza doesn’t have – youth and size. As well, the Goat’s hard work during the offseason on his skating has been evident during training camp. He’s improved his game, and the result is that Spezza might still play (although Babcock’s recent comments have confused that issue), but would move to the wing. 

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to watch the highlights of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs game, where Toronto’s seconds beat the Canadiens regulars, and not realize that all these professional hockey players have strong skills. Furthermore, the differences between the good players and the really good players might be small.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Trevor Moore: Is He Ready For a Breakout Season?

It was heartening to see the Maple Leafs team win, knowing that many of these players might soon play their last games in a Toronto uniform. Good luck to those who leave, and may you find a job with another team.