The Toronto Maple Leafs selected left-shooting defenceman Rasmus Sandin with the 29th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Sandin is a player who General Manager Kyle Dubas knows extremely well. The mobile defenceman formed a strong top pairing with Adam Boqvist at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last summer, and missed the most recent under-18 event while he was competing in the OHL Final with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I previously profiled Sandin here.
Sandin scored at a very impressive rate as a rookie in the OHL this year, particularly at 5 on 5, where he finished fourth among defenders in points per game. Only Evan Bouchard, Conor Timmins, and Nicolas Hague outscored him at even strength, and Sandin stands out as the only player in this group born in 2000.
His point per game production compares quite favourably to recent under-18 OHL defenders (he ended up falling to 0.88 points per game by the end of the regular season):
Here are the OHL leaders by points per game as an under-18 player. I went back since Doughty's big season in '06-07. I believe Vande Sompel may have spent some time at F.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 6, 2018
Merkley and Sandin are impressing this year. pic.twitter.com/WzHUsOhl95
On one hand, Sandin played for a high-scoring team, and his scoring production was helped by playing with talents such as Morgan Frost, Boris Katchouk, and Taylor Raddysh. On the other hand, he should get a greater opportunity to play on the top powerplay unit next year, as he was stuck behind a good prospect in Conor Timmins.
He also graded out incredibly well in terms of defending zone entries:
#2018NHLDraft eligible Rasmus Sandin is tremendous 1v1 defender. Rarely beat at the blue line with a combination of mobility, aggression, and anticipation. Great stick, too.— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 28, 2018
Further to the upper right the better - just look at Sandin's position relative to his teammates. pic.twitter.com/hZtBkLGjZt
Scouting Rasmus Sandin
Sandin is not overly flashy, but he’s an intelligent player who can play in all-situations. He should have no problem keeping up at the NHL level, and he’s strong enough as a puck mover to play on a second powerplay unit. This reminds me a lot of the Travis Dermott pick from back in 2015, as Sandin is a player who probably lacks the slapshot and flash of an elite scorer, and is not quite strong enough to be a prototypical shutdown defender. As a result, he seems unlikely to develop into a top pairing defender, and he was placed towards the end of my first round as a result.
This is not a swing for the fences type of pick, but the Leafs would certainly be thrilled if he turned into the next Dermott. He’s mobile enough to keep a tight gap when defending high-end forwards, makes smart plays under pressure, and moves the puck quite well. While he’s not overly physical, he’s been a trusted defender at every level.
Sandin was Sweden’s captain at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last summer, and I expect him to compete for a spot on their World Junior team this winter. As a 2000 born player, he will be also eligible for the 2019-2020 tournament, where he should be a top defender. I am rarely “wowed” with Sandin when I watch him play, but he’s consistently one of the better players on the ice and a reliable defender.
A Glimpse of Sandin in Action
Sandin is quick enough to jump up into the play, and an impressive passer. He does not shoot very often, but I have seen many impressive cross-ice passes from him on the powerplay. In the GIF below, Sandin fires a hard tape-to-tape pass to set up a great scoring chance:
I don’t think he will be the next Shea Weber on the powerplay, but he’s strong enough as a playmaker to provide solid point production at 5 on 5. He needs to use his quickness to jump up into the play in order to score at a solid rate:
Sandin can really pass the puck. He threads the needle once again in the GIF below, setting his teammate up for a tap-in:
Although he’s not overly flashy, but he can hold onto the puck for ages and walk the line to create scoring chances. He rarely forces anything, and consistently moves the puck effectively:
In terms of skating, Corey Pronman of the Athletic gave Sandin a 50 grade on the 20-80 scale, which is essentially league average. While this is fair, you can certainly make an argument that he’s a 55 grade skater. I can promise you that he’s not below average in this aspect of the game;
I am awfully impressed with him in the GIF below. He’s not normally overly flashy, but he’s clearly a solid skater and puck carrier. Everyone seems to be a little bit more content with Toronto’s selection after watching this rush:
Absolutely love the Rasmus Sandin pick for Toronto. He's what I'd call a modern day defender. Little undersized but has some bite. Positionally sound. Good defending the blueline. Excellent puck distributor in all three zones. Can run a PP. Makes good decisions.— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) June 23, 2018
Dubas quick to diffuse Soo connection. Says scouts put him at top of board, not him. “For me personally, I think he plays the position the way we want it to be played. He defends tough minutes, he moves the puck extremely well.”— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) June 23, 2018
No surprise the Leafs took Sandin. Great passer and skater. A lot like Dermott, tbh. Heady, intelligent player. Thrived on a good team. Don’t think he has top pairing upside but he’s a quality prospect.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) June 23, 2018
Soo Greyhounds GM Kyle Raftis tonight on Rasmus Sandin: "When he's on the ice for us a lot of times the ice is tilted in our favour."— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) June 23, 2018
Sandin is known by most scouts for his “hockey sense”, which to me means: he’s greater than the sum of his parts. Coaches tend to trust him, as he competes well, is not overly mistake-prone, and holds his own against tough competition. He’s a modern day defenceman who uses his mobility to prevent zone entries without taking penalties, and sees the ice well enough to hold his own in the transition game.
My best player available at #29 was Joe Veleno, and it seems like I am not the only person on the planet who was hoping for him. Surprisingly enough, the two players share similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are capable as both playmakers and puck carriers, trustworthy at both ends of the ice, and may struggle in terms of goal scoring. Both are low-variance picks who are safer bets to make the NHL, but probably won’t develop into superstars.
I believe that Veleno is strong enough as a puck carrier and two-way centre to have a shot at being a solid second line centre. If he does not score enough to do this, I see him as one of the league’s best third line centres. The biggest difference for me is in terms of position, as I am a huge fan of adding impact players at centre.
Sandin ranked 29th on my final list, but he’s roughly even with my 20th ranked player in Johnny Tychonick. The 20-31 range was incredibly tight on my rankings, and this was my trade down range. Ultimately, I’d give this pick a B-/B if they took him at #25, but this jumps up to a B or B+ with the extra pick.
I’m very surprised that Veleno fell given his position and mature style of play. I think he could walk into a NHL role fairly quickly, although there’s questions of whether or not he will contribute on a top powerplay unit. Taking Sandin over Veleno is not a massive shock to me, but I was quite surprised to see players like Liam Foudy, Filip Johansson, and Nils Lundkvist off the board before him.
Ultimately, I’m fairly content with the Leafs after day one. I would have liked to add a centre to the organization’s depth chart, but I will take a mobile, modern-day defenceman who carries a lot of similarities to Travis Dermott. Let’s hope that the Leafs make the most out of their extra third-round pick.