Seven of our seventeen voters ranked Rasmus Sandin in the top five of our Maple Leafs Top 25 Under 25. This is a de facto rank of “best prospect” on the Leafs organisation. All remaining five players to be revealed on our list have NHL jobs already.
Sandin is the highest ranked player in the system yet to crack the NHL. That isn’t surprising. He spent most of last season as an 18 year-old, only turning 19 in March.
The significance of an increase in rank from #12 to #6 must not be understated here.
While some players dropped out of our rankings because they hit 25 years of age before July 1, others were added, and then Sandin simply leapfrogged several many more others.
He really impressed us.
Sandin’s Rank Change Matrix
|Status Change||Players||Rank Impact|
|Aged off of the list||Morgan Rielly, Connor Brown*, Connor Carrick*||+3|
|Fell behind Sandin||Andreas Johnsson, Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, Andreas Borgman*||+4|
|New to the List||Alexander Kerfoot||-1|
|Total||Net rank increase||+6|
|Total||Net natural rank increase||+3|
The “natural rank increase” is the four players he leapfrogged in the ranking, less one spot for Alexander Kerfoot who bumped him back down by one. Andreas Borgman is included in that total because we had finished voting before he was traded.
An informal poll of our staff shows both of Connor Brown and Connor Carrick would have also wound up ranked behind Sandin. “I think if you ranked Sandin above Travis Dermott, he’s above the other two by necessity,” said Fulemin. That would have given him a natural rank increase of six places.
That is an astounding jump up the upper tier of the players by one who is only 18 years-old.
The important questions now are when will Sandin make it on to the Leafs roster, and what exactly is his ceiling there?
Let’s first look at what happened this season.
Will he or won’t he go back to junior?
Spoilers: he didn’t.
But that was the number one question, and the big story line from the start of last season through until January. It’s not common for an 18 year-old to be in the AHL. In fact, it’s quite rare given the transfer agreement between the two leagues, though that agreement didn’t apply in his case.
The question of his return to the OHL was complicated by an injury sustained over Christmas while Sandin played for the Swedish national team at the World Junior Championship. A sprained elbow in that tournament caused him to sit out for several weeks. Ultimately the Leafs organisation decided it was best to keep him in Toronto to recover and then continue play with the Marlies.
They were not disappointed with that decision.
Sandin excites me as a potential top 4 defenseman who seems perfect for what the NHL is becoming. Given that we traded down to get him, got him right at the end of the 1st round and passed on someone like Joe Veleno for him, he’s made Dubas look smart so far. - Brigstew
Sandin with a no-look backhand pass to start the breakout here. The Monsters can't anticipate the pass as a result, and his teammate gets extra time and space pic.twitter.com/jYT0BgurfJ— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 1, 2019
The Points and the Power Play
Over the whole of the regular season Sandin scored six goals, but most notably had 22 assists over the 44 games he played which included an eight game point streak starting in March. He actually tied a record
He has a fantastic set of tools to drive play. He can see clearly up the ice and make a perfect pass to spring one of the forwards out ahead on a breakaway. Look no further than this pass to Egor Korshkov which lead to his first goal.
He can also shrug off forecheckers and carry the puck through the neutral zone himself as needed.
His ability to pass and set up goals on the power play simply is amazing. Check out his work here which leads to a goal by Trevor Moore.
Oh, right. He hits too.
One does not simply attempt to hit Rasmus Sandin. pic.twitter.com/ATGANHor4m— Soo Greyhounds (@OHLHoundPower) November 5, 2017
No, this 18—now 19—year-old is not yet without some flaws in his game. We’ve seen them. However, they are flaws that can be corrected with experience.
In the Eastern Conference Final playoff game on May 24 against the Charlotte Checkers, Sandin was on the ice for the power-play and was the defenceman back whom allowed an unfortunate short-handed goal. When asked about his thoughts on that play, Sheldon Keefe pivoted to how they wouldn’t have even gotten to that point if it weren’t for all Sandin was doing right.
“He’s in his eighteen year-old season and we played him 30 minutes out there tonight. It’s a lot to ask from him and because of guys like him, that’s why we’re playing at this time of year,” Keefe said.
Keefe doesn’t shy away from criticizing his players at the media scrums when they deserve it. It’s obvious listening to him over time that public criticism comes out of frustration over problem area of his players’ games which he’s worked hard with them to change but which don’t change.
So far, he has given the impression that the gaffes by Sandin are only a result of a lack of experience, not a pattern that frustrates him as a coach.
If Keefe isn’t worried, neither am I.
With all the excitement about his potential, you probably want to know where we think he will play next season.
This is where it gets complicated.
The arrival of Tyson Barrie will mean movement among the defence pairings. There’s also still uncertainty whether or not Dermott will be available to play at the start of the season. One of the defenceman could also conceivably switch sides, at least temporarily, to fill a hole in the lineup.
Sandin will start this season still a teenager, and there isn’t any need to throw him to the wolves. But, would it be possible? Dubas hasn’t ruled it out. I’m sure both he and Mike Babcock would love to see what he can do on the Maple Leafs power play.
Rasmus Sandin has 7 points in his last 5 games.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 16, 2019
He's not a player who "might" play on a NHL powerplay. He's a player who will play on a NHL powerplay.
It’s also an election year, and there’s sill some whispers of the possibility of an October Surprise signing.
One path for him is to start in the NHL, gain some experience, and then go back to the Marlies to finish the season.
Katya summarised the process in the linked article as follows:
If your fun prospect in question is age 18 or 19 as of September 15, like Sandin this year, his contract can “slide” if he is sent back to the AHL as long as he hasn’t played more than nine NHL games. This is games played, not time on the 23-man roster. Sliding means the year doesn’t count against the length of the contract. So Sandin, who was signed in 2018, slid last year, and his contract doesn’t expire now until 2022. If he plays less than 10 games in the NHL this year, it slides to 2023.
This matters in terms of kicking the cap hit can down the road, but it’s not a very good reason to keep a genuinely capable player out of the lineup.
I’m not trying to troll the list by ranking him at three. It’s an exclamation point for a player with huge potential that is about to play through a season where he could break out and have a profound, long-term impact on the team.
I see nothing but blue skies in Rasmus Sandins’ future. In aviation speak that’s called an “unlimited ceiling.”
Many of our voters see it this way too.
Historically, I’ve voted for above-average NHL players over prospects, with three exceptions: William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews. Rasmus Sandin is the fourth. He lacks the highly drafted pedigree of the first three. He’s a defenceman, which makes him harder to project than any of the prior three. He lacks the standout tools of Nylander’s puckhandling, Marner’s vision, or Matthews’ shot. So to an extent, I’m taking a shot in the dark here, especially since I’m no one’s idea of a Marlies expert. But when I do watch Sandin, I constantly find myself thinking that THIS is what a modern NHL defender should look like. He just knows how to play hockey. He’s like one of those cars with 15 cameras on it to help people reverse park. He seems to know where people are, and he’s generally smart about taking risks in dangerous areas (with some exceptions). I’m a big fan based on what I’ve seen, and I think he can end up having a hugely positive play-driving impact in the NHL. - Arvind
Katya agrees the question is really “how high?”
There are players out there that when you see them for the first time, you’re smitten. You exclaim out loud at their talent, the way they play, everything about them. For me, there’s been a few of those lately. Auston Matthews, for sure, Mitchell Marner, Sarah Nurse, and definitely Rasmus Sandin. There’s a spark there, something special, and he is without question, in my mind, the best Leafs prospect not in the NHL. He’s not Matthews-level, where he could go to the NHL right out of the draft, but he’s also not that far away either. He is NHL-bound. The only doubt is: how high will he go? - Katya
Fulemin drives home the point that Sandin is our top prospect.
I wouldn’t rule out Rasmus Sandin being a top pair defender someday. I’m not saying that it’s likely. But I’m saying I wouldn’t rule it out. That immediately puts him at the top of the prospects
We officially declare Rasmus Sandin to be the number one Maple Leafs prospect.
Rasmus Sandin set the new @TorontoMarlies record for an assist streak by a defensemen with the assist on the OT game winner by Adam Brooks. He passes T.J. Brennan's seven game mark in 2014-15— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 21, 2019
A special thanks goes to Christian Bonin who has supplied us with the amazing high-resolution photos of Toronto Marlies players we have used throughout this series.