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Decisions loom again for Rasmus Sandin and the Leafs

With the Marlies defender not yet reassigned to any team, he’s living in limbo while his fate is determined by the Leafs.

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin in training camp.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Update:

That injury was never disclosed before. And that mostly answers the questions below about the rest of the season.


The 2019 World Junior Championships is over, and Sweden went home early without a medal after a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Switzerland, the ultimate loser of the bronze-medal game.

In Sweden, the SHL started up on January 5 after a few days off over New Year’s, and Pontus Holmberg was on the ice for Växjö that evening. Erik Brannstrom played for the Chicago Wolves the same day.

But so far, no one has word on where Rasmus Sandin is going to play next. Back in the fall, Sandin impressed most viewers with his play on the Leafs in preseason, and then when he was transferred to the Marlies for their few preseason games, he injured his thumb in his first game.

The Leafs wanted to see him in the AHL to judge what he could do, so they waited out his injury, and he joined the Marlies for his first game in late October, where he scored his first goal.

He hasn’t stopped impressing in the AHL, where he plays some carefully arranged minutes, and where he has five goals and five assists in 18 games. That makes him 45th in points per game played for defenders who have played more than 10 games.

To put that in some context, the top defenceman in the AHL this year by points is Lawrence Pilut of Rochester, and it isn’t even close. In 16 games played there before Buffalo realized he should be in the NHL, he put up 1.38 points per game. Then next closest is veteran AHL/NHL player Adam Clendening with one point per game for Cleveland.

Pilut is an undrafted UFA signing from Sweden, and he’s only 23, but he also has 191 SHL games played. For Sandin, at 19, he shouldn’t be expected to be way too good for the AHL like Pilut. Not yet.

If we look at Sandin’s peers (eight other players in total) who are 20 and under in the AHL on defence, we find only his WJC teammate Erik Brannstrom with a better points pace. Sandin is also beating out teammate Timothy Liljegren for points in the early going, but Liljegren, it should be noted, got the careful minutes last season. This season, he’s expected to produce on the top pair.

Sandin is definitely at the level Liljegren was last season, and he’s handling the grind of the AHL just fine. There shouldn’t be any doubt now if he can play in the AHL; the question now is: Do the Leafs want him there?

During the WJC, EP Rinkside published an article about Sandin based on an interview with him and his father. It’s great, and you should read the whole thing:

But the pertinent quote is this one:

“I really didn’t know where I would end up and I don’t really know for sure where I’m going to play once the World Juniors are over”, [Sandin] says. “I still live out of a hotel in Toronto, even though it’s more like an apartment in a hotel. We’ll see what happens after the World Juniors, if I go back there or if they have other plans for me.”

And so here we are again looking at the three potential places he could go.

The Soo Greyhounds

The Sault Star published an interview with the GM of the Greyhounds, Ken Raftis. He isn’t sure if Sandin will be loaned back to his junior team, but he still could be.

On Sunday, the Soo Greyhounds general manager said he expects to “get some clarity from the (Toronto) Maple Leafs before the 10th.”

Thursday is Jan. 10 and the deadline for Ontario Hockey League trades.

It’s also the day Sandin must be on the Hounds active list in order to be eligible to compete for the team during the 2018-2019 season.

The potential exists for Sandin to be on that list by January 10, but not play on the team until later. He would need to be on the Greyhounds by February 10 to play there for the rest of the season. Raftis doesn’t sound, in that article, like he has an opinion if the word from Toronto will be yes or no.

The pros for Sandin playing in the Soo is that he’s close enough to be kept in contact with development staff. He’ll play big minutes with meaningful power play time, and the OHL plays an intense season with a lot of playoff rounds. The Soo is in a playoff position now and is second in the Western Conference.

The cons are that it’s junior hockey. At the highest level of juniour hockey at the WJC, Sandin looked very comfortable, but was behind Brannstrom in ability on Team Sweden. Brannstrom looks like he should be in the NHL already most of the time, however.

Rögle of the SHL

Rögle is still very much an option for Sandin. The deadline there is February 15, for him to join the team for the rest of the season and the playoffs.

The pros to this plan are the same as for the Soo, only he’d be getting bigger and more meaningful minutes in a men’s league. He’s also be playing with his brother, making a good salary (unlike in the OHL), and it’s likely his last chance at league play in Sweden for many years.

The cons are less serious than they were the last time we went through this. Rögle have improved quite a bit and sit just above the playoff cutoff right now. If they make it to the first round of the playoffs, that would take place in March. There are only 22 regular season games left.

Playoffs are over by the end of April at the latest, and that would leave him free to come back to the Marlies whenever Rögle is beaten out. No one expects them to go all the way.

The Marlies

The main pro to a Marlies return is obvious: He’s in Toronto, taking part in training and development in the Leafs facilities. He’d also be playing a lot more than 22 games between now and mid-April when the regular season ends.

The main con to this idea is that the Marlies aren’t in a playoff position at the moment. The Marlies do have a glut of more experienced defencemen, three who are injured right now (Andreas Borgman, Steve Oleksy and Liljegren), and there might be a desire to let development of the youngest players on the team take a back seat to a focus on trying to move up the standings once they get some stable goaltending so their other prospects get some playoff time.

The Leafs have left this choice hanging in the air long, enough, and it’s time they made a move. That move will likely come in the next day or two.