Calle Rosen will make his season debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night against the New york Islanders. This won’t be his NHL debut as he played a four-game try-out with the Leafs at the start of the 2017-18 season after coming over from Sweden before being sent to the Marlies for development.
Rosen got one secondary assist in those games, but his play was still very raw. He shot the puck a lot from everywhere, and was left getting lost in the defensive zone way too often. In two seasons of play, Rosen has completely turned his game around, tuning it perfectly for the modern North American game.
In the fall of 2017, Rosen was mostly used on the third pair in a sheltered role with other long-term projects. Andrew Nielsen, Martin Marincin, and Timothy Liljegren were his primary partners. It took him several months to get his footing on a new continent; he was getting lost in the defensive zone, he wasn’t physical, and he was still doing what he did at training camp which was shooting the puck from everywhere and anywhere. Up until the new year he was only able to rack up eight assists on 68 shots in 27 games.
But as 2017 turned to 2018, he made an honest effort to work on his play in the defensive zone, he started to use his 6’1” frame to his advantage, and he started to win more puck battles. Meanwhile on offense, he seemed to get more comfortable with the process and stopped trying to force pucks through from bad locations. He moved up to the second line by mid-December, and was on the top pair with Vincent LoVerde by New Year’s Eve. In his final 35 games, Rosen scored four goals, collected 10 assists, and 91 shots.
Not only did his point production from the back-end increase, he was trusted to play on the penalty kill and protect leads late in the third period (of which the Calder Cup Champions had many). There was a point in the middle of February where the team was really struggling to get up for games; they had locked up their playoff spot and both Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott were gone to play for the Leafs in the weeks prior. With his work revitalizing the power play and stepping up to take important 5v5 minutes, Rosen was one of the big players on the back end to help get the team out of their funk. He and Andreas Johnsson were at the tops of their games once the playoffs rolled around in April.
The playoffs is when we (fans, reporters, and Mike Babcock) all saw what Calle Rosen had turned into since the previous September. In the 16 games that culminated in the Marlies winning the Calder Cup, Rosen put up five goals and six assists for 11 points, the third-most points by a defensemen in the playoffs. He also had 47 shots, which was good for second in the same category. All of this as a rookie in the league.
One short summer later, Rosen was back in Toronto for his second Leafs training camp. There was a chance for him to make the team out of camp, but it was an outside shot with Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Travis Dermott up the left side, and Igor Ozhiganov impressing Mike Babcock enough to give him the 3RD position.
So Rosen went back to the AHL where he was the undisputed number one defenseman on the team. He worked on improving his craft on the penalty kill — he and LoVerde are far and away the most important players on that unit — and keeping up his offensive production. This year, with Rosen and Jeremy Bracco quarterbacking the power play, they are fourth in the league. At the time of his injury, Rosen was leading the AHL in points, and even now, his points-per-game rate is still second in the league. All of that earned him a trip to the 2019 AHL All-Star, which is pretty cool.
On February 22nd, Rosen injured his foot in Syracuse against the Crunch. Five days later, the Leafs announced that Jake Gardiner would be out “week-to-week” with an injury. Initial reports said that Rosen was only going to miss about a week, but at week turned into weeks, and then a month, and 30 days later on March 24th, he made his return to the Marlies lineup.
After one game against the Rochester Americans, and another on March 29th against the Utica Comets, Rosen got the call from Mike Babcock and will play just his fifth NHL game against the New York Islanders on April 1st.
His first four games came with a young unproven Leafs team with question marks swirling around, asking whether they can win games and make the playoffs. He now joins a young Leafs team with question marks swirling around, whether they can beat the Boston Bruins.
The first thing that stands out to me with Rosen is his first pass. It’s quick off his stick, he always sends it with pace, and it’s very accurate at distance. One thing Rosen is very good at doing is skating back in his own zone, and turning the puck around very quickly to get the play moving back the other way. He’s very smart with the stretch pass, and his passing on the power play is sublime. He and Jeremy Bracco set each other up really well, and their ability to find seams and make the defense move more than them is something that’s made that unit super effective.
Sandin and Rosen played together between shifts, and this pair can really pass pic.twitter.com/DfYaZcPTak— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) November 24, 2018
Rosen definitely stands above his largely shorter teammates, but his skating is also one of the best among the defensemen on the team. He’s not as agile as Rasmus Sandin when trying to elude opponents, or as fast in a straight line like Jordan Subban, but he’s regularly capable of starting rushes through the defensive and neutral zones, and getting back when the play goes the other way.
One thing Travis Dermott was lauded as having when he was called up was his ability to hold a high line with his skating. Rosen succeeds in the same area of the game, but with his long stick and ability to cover ground quickly. I’m thinking the style of players like Jay Bouwmeester in his hay-day here, but obviously not as good.
There’s two main aspects to Rosen’s shot. One, it’s heavy. Two, it’s in the right spot. Whether it’s a snapper or a slapshot, Rosen’s shots always head to the net with speed. When he’s given a step at the middle of the blueline, you know the shot is going to come quickly and with speed. As for location, he’s done a good job of sending his shots to areas where his forwards can either tip them in or have them bounce off the boards and create a rebound. Rarely do you see him whipping a shot at head height. Frankly, he’s one of the more dangerous defensemen in the AHL from the point.
It will be interesting where Babcock and his coaching staff play Rosen. He’s likely to immediately fit in on the third pair on the left side until Gardiner gets back, and from there will likely have the option of Dermott, Ron Hainsey, or Nikita Zaitsev to play on his right side. Rosen doesn’t really play the right side, so his partner will definitely have to. This season, he’s played with a Hainsey type (Vincent LoVerde) and a Dermott type (Timothy Liljegren), so it’ll come down to what Babcock and DJ Smith decide will work best for the corps as a whole.
In terms of special teams, Rosen can definitely quarterback a power play, but the Leafs are full on that depth chart. Rosen can also play the penalty kill. He has good instincts, and for long stretches of the season when there was little depth, he would play the full two minutes for the Marlies alongside LoVerde. Ideally, the Leafs would’ve had him up at least a month ago so they could ease him into the PK, but they don’t have that luxury anymore. If they choose to put Rosen on the ice when down a man (or two), it’ll be a bold leap of faith as the coaching staff has never thrown a new guy directly into the penalty kill.
Nice PK shift from Rosen here. He anticipates the pass, intercepts it, leads the rush, draws a penalty, then sets up Moore.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) January 20, 2019
The Marlies didn't score here, but they held onto the puck for well over a minute, and killed off the whole penalty. pic.twitter.com/ZCUkhfxHTh