No one knew what to think when Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas traded down at the 2018 NHL Draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had pulled off a similar move in the past. Back in 2015, they traded down from 24th overall to 29th overall and then into the second round. This move left the Maple Leafs with Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzierkals rather than just the 24th pick.
This move made sense at the time, seeing that the state of the Leafs’ prospect pool in 2015 was much weaker than it would be in 2018. When the only real prospects with any substance are William Nylander, Andreas Johnsson, and Pierre Engvall, you tend to care more about quantity as opposed to quality.
But why would they have traded down in 2018? By that point the prospect pool had been pretty much revamped, so you’d think they would put more stock into simply drafting the BPA instead of trying to stockpile.
Toronto Maple Leafs Rasmus Sandin
It may not have seemed obvious at the time, but at this point, it’s pretty clear that Dubas had one player in mind and was confident enough that the Toronto Maple Leafs would be able to get him later in the first round.
So he pulled the trigger on the deal and acquired pick #29 and #76 in exchange for pick #25. And he got his guy at 29th overall. Enter Rasmus Sandin.
At first, you know there were some fans who weren’t overly thrilled with the pick. Not necessarily because it wasn’t a good pick, but just because it was an undersized, left-handed, puck moving defenseman. I was happy with the pick at the time, but with prospects like Joe Veleno still on the board, I was surprised they went with Sandin.
Now, I’m over the moon that he was the pick at 29th. And everybody else should be too.
Sandin had impressive numbers coming out of his draft season with the Soo Greyhounds, putting up 45 points through 51 games to go along with 10 points in 13 playoff games. But you could make a kilometre-long list of players who light it up in junior but fail to translate it to the pros. So it wasn’t worth getting excited over yet.
Fast forward to his debut season in the AHL. With Sandin being 18 years old and never having played pro hockey on North American ice, a couple of hiccups and learning curves were expected. And did they happen? Sure. But man, did he ever rise to the occasion.
Sandin’s rookie season in the AHL saw him put up 28 points through 42 games. He also set a team record for longest point-streak by a defenseman with eight games and often found himself being used in high-pressure situations alongside fellow top prospect Timothy Liljegren.
After starting the 2019-20 NHL season in the NHL, Sandin returned to the AHL for a 21-game stint and a quick break at the world juniors, where he posted 10 points in seven games and was named the tournament’s top defenseman.
And now? Sandin is back with the big club, and there’s no way he’s ever turning back. He’s officially crossed the nine-game mark in the NHL, which burns a year off of his entry level deal. But at this point, the Leafs don’t seem to care.
The Uppsala native has seven points in 12 games and is no longer at the stage where the team is trying to groom him into an NHL role. He’s already made his mark, and he’s already proven that he has what it takes to be in the NHL for the rest of his career.
It also helps that he played under then-Marlies coach and now-Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe already, so Keefe already knows what he’s all about and knows that he can be trusted.
Defensemen are difficult to judge when they first enter the league because they usually take longer to develop and find their defensive game.
But part of what makes Sandin so special is the fact that he already plays a high-IQ game that you’d expect from a veteran defenseman. He has great poise and doesn’t get shaken up easily.
The maturity he displays for a 19 year-old, yes, 19 YEAR-OLD defenseman is incredible. And it’s at the point now where if he’s not playing, the Leafs are a weaker team without him.
The way he’s been able to slide into a certain role in the wake of Morgan Rielly’s injury and do a great job of it shows that he needs to be on the team for the rest of the season.
He’s on the second power play unit and is being used on the penalty kill as well, so the amount of stock and trust Keefe is putting into him says something about his play.
Towards the end of the season when Rielly recovers and the Toronto Maple Leafs have an entirely-healthy defensive core (if that ever happens), they simply need to find a way to keep Sandin on the team.
Even if that means benching Cody Ceci and his $4.5 million, the defensive core is simply better with Sandin on it.
The things that he’s doing for his age say a lot about the potential he has. And at this point, the sky’s the limit for Sandin.