Uffe Bodin had an article out today discussing the likely makeup of Team Sweden’s defence at the WJC this December. He thinks Erik Brännström and Timothy Liljregren would be locks for the squad if they are released by their teams. He also thinks Rasmus Sandin is one of the top contenders for the group too.

Patrik Bexell, friend of the blog and helper with all things Swedish recently went to Ångelhom for the day.

Patrik was there to go to hockey rinks, though, not go play in the sand. The occasion was a preseason game for the home team Rögle BK, and he got to talk to Sandin and his coach. He’s translated Sandin’s comments for us into English.

Rasmus Sandin has been playing most of the games on the top pair as Rögle begins preparation for their first full season with a new coach and general manager duo, Cam and Chris Abbott.

Rögle is Timothy Liljegren’s old team too, and last year at this time, we were playing “will he or won’t he” with Liljegren. Rögle’s then coach told our reporter in Germany at the annual tournament in Cologne that Liljegren was not going to play for them that season, so he wasn’t being used in preseason games. At the time, that looked like a very good thing, since the team was in a shambles and opened the season with an epic run of soul-destroying losses.

That was then, and there’s no one like Leafs fans to understand how fast a new management group can turn a team around. The Abbotts are looking to ice a competitive roster, and so far they have gotten a lot of good things from Sandin.

Patrik began his interviews talking to Sandin.

The Draft and Toronto

“Being drafted in front of your family and then many people, that really makes it special, especially when it is the Toronto Maple Leafs that drafts you in the first round.” It is clear that having spent the season in Sault Ste. Marie and in the vicinity of Toronto made it feel like the local team drafted him, and he was aware that it would be the Leafs who would grab him; “I had a good feeling about it, I spoke with them a lot, the GM there and everything, and I met them a few times. Yes, I had a good feeling about it.”

Spending time in Toronto during camp made a good impression too, especially the fans. Even if the Rögle fans are known in Sweden to be one of the loudest and the steep stands of Lindab Arena makes the crowd feel even closer, the passion of the Leafs faithful made a lasting impression on Sandin.

The fact that Toronto is pushing the boundaries and making a lot of decisions right, does make Sandin look forward to putting on the jersey sooner rather than later. As he explains, “A few years ago they weren’t even in the playoffs, and now they are one of the better teams in the league. They have really good forwards and good defenders. It is fun to be a part of that team and to be part of the team they already have.” The hiring of Hayley Wickenheiser as Assistant Director of Player Development makes it even more interesting, and Sandin thinks that player development is one of the big strengths in Toronto at the moment.

And where is Sandin playing this season?

When asked directly where he will play this upcoming season, Sandin is honest but cagey.  He says he doesn’t know anything, but interestingly enough, Stéphane Robidas was in Köln (Cologne) for the preseason tournament held there last week — a tournament Rögle won and where Sandin had two assists in three games — to speak with Rögle’s GM Chris Abbott and Coach Cam Abbott. “I think it was very positive speaking to Mr. Robidas and he got to see what we have here in Rögle. I have been here for a bit more than a month and I really enjoy spending time down here with all the guys and learning from all the coaches, it’s been fun but I don’t know much [about future plans]. We will have to see after the camp [in Toronto].” Rasmus is open in his decision making and seems to see the positives in any location he might play in, “I have been down here for a couple of weeks; it’s professional now. Rögle is certainly a good choice for me, but as you know Toronto has one of the best development teams in the league, and I am trusting them to do what is right for me.”

Rögle is a team that has often been on the outside looking in, a team between the bigger cities of Malmö and Gothenburg (where Frölunda plays), this year however, there is a change in the mentality.

“It’s been awesome here this month, comparing to the organization before I left last season, it is a completely different thing. I have to say everything is more professional, everything is more taken care of, and everyone can expect good things from everyone on the team. It is a different organisation right now and I think you can expect good things from us this season.”

Personally I have Rögle as a playoff team in Sweden this year; the chances would improve with Rasmus Sandin in the team, but the changes are evident in the eyes of the players, and him playing big minutes in the SHL could certainly be an option for Kyle Dubas to consider. Sandin was paired on the first pairing with Craig Schira in every moment of the practice I witnessed, and it certainly looks like he is trusted by the coaches to fill that position if he were to stay in Sweden.

“I need to improve on every aspect of the game to get to the next level. I need to get stronger so I can measure myself against the bigger guys and win puck battles in the corners, and obviously my speed needs to be better for sure. Those are the two main things. It is important for me to build up muscle, getting stronger, bigger and faster especially at this age. This is the time to really develop and get better at stuff that is as important as playing the game at the moment”.

“Living in Canada for a year was really cool, I didn’t know a lot of guys going over, I spoke to one guy Barrett Hayton, one of my best friends, before going over. He was the guy that texted me before I made the decision to go over, it was really cool. I know someone a little bit before going over, but the Soo really made an effort when I got there. They were very professional, sorted out bank accounts, the phone and all that. It was a lot of things I didn’t know about. It was an awesome experience”.

William Nylander and Timothy Liljegren have done their job, hyping up Toronto as a hockey town (as if that were needed). Playing in front of all those fantastic fans is an option that Rasmus Sandin wouldn’t pass up either.

Cam Abbott’s View

Rögle plays HV71 in a preseason game later tonight (Friday), and Craig Schira and Rasmus Sandin are on the first pairing. Coach Cam Abbott gave a few words to me after practice. When asked about Sandin’s immediate future: “You know I think it’s a pretty open question right now. We have certainly enjoyed working with him so far, and we can see him being a big part of this team moving forward which would also be good for his development.”

GM Chris Abbott is keeping the dialogue open with Toronto, and coach Abbott acknowledges that things are not easy for him as a coach “Of course it’s a dialogue and Chris speaks with his counterparts over there, hopefully it works out so that what’s best for Toronto and Rasmus is also the best for us.”

The big question from Toronto is probably the ice time and workload in special teams for Sandin and coach Abbott wont go on the record to promise any special treatment for Sandin in his team: you earn the right to play. “It is up to him he has certainly shown he can be an SHL player right away. He fits in our playing style and in the group quite well, and as I said he could be big part of this team moving forward. As with all the guys on the ice they’ll determine their own ice time in what they bring, but indications are that he is very capable for us and should be played in that position.”

When asked if Sandin’s biggest improvement would come from staying in the SHL for this year, Coach Abbott points to history: “You don’t have to go to far back to see the skating defenders that is his style and how they developed thanks to a year or two extra in SHL, and I could certainly see that being the case for Rasmus as well. It is not my decision to make, but we have a lot of things in place — Cory Murphy as our defensive coach [another Canadian like the Abbotts with extensive SHL playing experience] — and we want to help Rasmus. We also have the time to spend, we practice quite a lot, the travel is short, and it gives us the time to focus on the individual aspects of the development”.

The Leafs have said that the decision on Sandin’s future will be made in September, but it sounds like the choice is Rögle or the Marlies. Like Liljegren last year, the days when junior hockey had anything to teach Sandin are over.