The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without two of their top-four defenseman tonight, which means it’ll be a huge opportunity for Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin to show their worth.
It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs need to upgrade their blue-line. However, after we watch Sandin and Liljegren in a bigger spotlight tonight, it may change the type of defenseman they try to acquire.
For the past few seasons, one of the biggest topics of discussion has been around the development of Sandin and Liljegren, but more specifically Liljegren.
Liljegren was drafted 17th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and only had played in 13 NHL games prior to the season. Sandin, on the other hand, was drafted one year later (29th overall in 2018 NHL Entry Draft) and had played 37 career games.
Although, he’d only played 24 more games, it felt like Sandin was developing at a much quicker pace because he’d played playoff games and was always slotted in as a top-six defenseman for Toronto this season.
Despite the expectations and anticipation for two now former-prospects, both have performed admirably and will have a spotlight on them against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Huge Moment for Toronto Maple Leafs Young Defensemen Tonight
We sometimes forget just how young Sandin and Liljegren are.
Sandin is 21-years-old, while Liljegren is 22-years-old. Since Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner were all lighting the NHL on fire at that age, we assume that every other first-round pick should do so, but defensemen are built different.
Many NHL experts have said that a defenseman needs 300 games to turn into the player he will be for his career, while many others also say they need a few years in the AHL to develop.
Cale Makar, for example, who’s the NHL’s best young blue-liner needed two years in the NCAA before jumping into the league and was 21-years-old when he finally broke in at the professional level.
We always seem to forget just how hard it is to make an impact at such an early age and that it takes time to grow.
In terms of team defense, Sandin is leading all Leafs defenseman in Corsi For Percentage (CF%), while Liljegren is second in CF%. (stats: hockeyreference.com). Although they’re averaging only 16 minutes of ice-time per night, that’s an impressive thing to so see.
The one criticism you could say about the duo is that they haven’t done anything offensively. However, as the third-pair, they haven’t really needed to score or create offense. With more ice-time, I wouldn’t be shocked if either defenseman added an assist or even scored a goal against the Rangers.
Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin have definitely struggled at times this season, so it’ll be a big opportunity for Sandin and Liljegren to jump into that second-pair, play some more ice-time and try to shutdown some of the Rangers big offensive weapons.
If that duo can play a steady game and not allow many scoring chances, it could mean a much bigger opportunity for them for the rest of the season, but most definitely into next season.
As pending Restricted Free Agents, they’ll still be on team-friendly deals next season, which will be huge for the salary-cap and overall dynamic of the team.
I know it’s only one game, but this game could be huge for their career and could push Justin Holl out of the line-up, even quicker.