The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Rasmus Sandin 29th overall, in the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were extremely patient with Sandin, and though he doesn’t technically qualify as a rookie any more, for everything but the Calder Trophy this is pretty much his rookie season. If he was a rookie, he’d be in the Calder Conversation, and he might even win it.
While everyone loves draft picks, picks at the end of the 1st round don’t tend to develop into significant players. Another defenseman was picked first overall that year, Rasmus Dahlin, and Sandin might just end up being the better player.
At this point, I feel fairly confident in saying that Sandin will go on to be a #1 NHL defenseman, and that he will be in competition with Morgan Rielly, Tomas Kaberle and Borje Salming for the title of Best Toronto Maple Leafs Defenseman of All-Time. (Stats from naturalstattrick.com and Jfresh Cards).
Toronto Maple Leafs and Rasmus Sandin
Rasmus Sandin is having himself a year. After establishing himself as a legitimate NHL defenseman, he’s now in the position of playing behind two established star players who he might be superior to.
The question Sandin is forcing us to ask, is “Just how much do 3rd pairing minutes contribute to a player’s success”?
Because either 3rd pairing minutes are easy, or Sandin is one of the best players in the NHL. His current WAR places him above 95% of other defensemen. The caveat here being that he plays mostly 3rd pairing minutes.
Statistical experts I have spoken to have said that unless usage is extreme (see David Kampf) then where you play and who you play against is only a marginal factor in these ratings. Sandin’s competition falls in the 14th percentile, meaning he is getting some easier minutes.
However, the quality of his linemates is only in the 17th percentile, and the quality of your linemates has been said to be 5x more impactful than who you play against. So while he is getting easier minutes, he’s also saddled with worse teammates. Also, his usage cannot be categorized as extreme – the Toronto Maple Leafs actually start Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie in the offensive zone more often.
Rasmus Sandin Stats Inspection
Look: I can’t tell you how much effect playing 3rd pairing minutes has. It probably has some, because I doubt that Sandin is worthy of a Norris Trophy this year. That said, here are the WAR rankings of some players who play 3rd pairing roles on good teams:
Ryan Murray, Colorado, 41%
Erik Johnston, Colorado, 37%
Derek Forbert, Boston, 12%
Connor Clifton, Boston 64%
Brandon Montour, Florida, 13%
Lucas Carlson, Florida, 70%
Ian Cole, Carolina, 24%
Ethan Bear, Carolina, 66%
Erik Cernak, Tampa, 86%
Jan Rutta, Tampa, 22%
Cal Foote, Tampa 45%
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs 66%
As you can see, Rasmus Sandin is significantly better than the 3rd defensive pairings from all of the NHL’s other top teams. This suggests heavily that 3rd pairing minutes on good teams are not easy minutes, as there are a wide array of performances.
Among defenseman who have played at least 550 minutes, here are Sandin’s NHL rankings:
Corsi % (puck possession) 22nd
Shots-for % 29th
Expected Goals % 3rd
Scoring Chance % 2nd
High Danger Chances% 2nd
Sandin only has 10 points on the year, but the Leafs don’t give much ice time to their second PP unit, and he has the lowest shooting percentage and on-ice shooting percentage on the team. Eventually, he’ll score enough to make him less underrated.
But for now, I think it’s fair to say that Sandin has the makings of an elite defenseman. He doesn’t have the WOW Factor of someone like Cale Makar, but he’s just such a smart, easy player that I think he’s deceptively talented.
He is having one hell of a season, and Leafs might want to consider using him in tougher situations, because at this point it’s not out of the question that he’s their best overall defenseman.
We have seen that the numbers for 3rd pairing players are not really inflated too much, and so we have no real reason to ignore the fact that the numbers say he is one of the NHL’s best players. We can downgrade him a little for not playing on a top pairing, but not too much.
Of course he’ll have to do it as a legitimate top pairing player to earn that respect, but the evidence that he is on his way to being a top defenseman in the NHL is almost overwhelming.