With the 29th pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Rasmus Sandin from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a team that went 55-7-3-3 last season. The young Swede is coming off of a terrific rookie season in the OHL, and he impressed as his country’s captain at last year’s Hlinka tournament. Sandin is intelligent, a slightly above average skater and puck mover, and his coaches seem to love him. Despite his age, he debuts at #12 on a list that mainly features older prospects or NHL-calibre players.
All ten of our voters placed Sandin in their top 16, but the spread was fairly large. Hardev and I placed him inside of our top 10, while many others took a more cautious approach. I expect him to climb up a few spots next year, especially if makes an impression on Sweden’s World Junior team.
Sandin is certainly not a sure thing at this point, but I see him as a potential second pairing defenceman, and my list prioritizes players who have a chance of making a rather significant impact down the road. I have him at #9 as a result.
Rasmus Sandin via Elite Prospects
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
Sandin is a well-rounded defenceman with no major weaknesses to his game. He formed a strong top-pairing with Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist at last year’s Hlinka tournament, and while he rarely looked dominant, he impressed as an all-situations defender who was consistently one of the better players on the ice.
He’s just 5’11”, but tends to hold his own against stronger opponents, and showcases plenty of patience with the puck on his stick. His calmness under pressure allows him to hold onto the puck until a passing lane opens, and he sees the ice well enough to provide his forwards with quick and accurate breakout passes. Zone exits are a strength of his at this stage, and he’s not the type of defender who constantly fires the puck out of the zone as if his team are constantly on the penalty kill.
Sandin impressed with a few end-to-end rushes last year, but he’s generally more pass-first than rush-first, and his vision is evident on the powerplay. He completes more than his fair share of cross-ice passes, and also creates time and space for his teammates by holding on to the puck, drawing defenders towards him, then flipping a quick but short pass to a teammate who is attacking with speed.
Despite scoring 12 goals in just 51 regular season games this year, he is not much of a shooter, and typically scores his goals by jumping up into the rush and scoring from close-in. To make an NBA reference, he’s not “puck dominant”, and is not afraid to put his teammates in positions to succeed, rather than doing it all himself.
He’s not as dominant offensively as prospects such as Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, or Evan Bouchard, so he’s unlikely to become an offensive star like P.K. Subban or even Jake Gardiner. Still, he’s a talented puck mover who coaches trust in the defensive zone, and there’s enough offensive skill here to develop into a solid modern-day type of NHL defenceman.
He shares many similarities to Travis Dermott, who already looks like a solid second-pairing option. Like Dermott, he would be hard-pressed to earn powerplay time in an organization with multiple high-end offensive defencemen, and he’s not quite big enough to be your prototypical star penalty killer. However, he’s well-rounded enough to play in any-situation, and I will happily take any player who is consistently one of the best players on the ice, even if they aren’t a superstar.
He was a secondary target of mine ahead of the draft, and the Leafs also added Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (who ranked 20th on our Top 25 Under 25) by trading down before taking Sandin:
Secondary targets (players who I haven't tweeted about in the last 5 minutes) include Akil Thomas, Rasmus Sandin, and Filip Hallander. I'm going to try to watch Dellandrea again to help decide if he squeaks in here as well. https://t.co/nQhSu5HWz8— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 15, 2018
Re-watched RUS-SWE from the Hlinka.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 2, 2018
-Sandin should be higher in my rankings (around #23-#25). Moving the puck very well.
-Berggren consistently outplays Hallander + Olofsson
-Love Wernblom if he's available in round 4/5
-I like Ginning a lot more than most dmen with his profile
Sandin doesn’t have a booming slap-shot, but he’s talented enough as a passer to earn top-unit powerplay time at the OHL level. Conor Timmins, who is one of the best defenders in the league, has prevented this from happening for the most part, but Sandin would quarterback the top unit on most junior teams.
Clearly, there are times where Sandin shows that he could turn into an above-average puck rusher someday. He’s certainly more pass-first than rush-first, but this is a player who can gain the zone himself if he does not see an open receiver for a breakout pass.
Sandin successfully gains the zone once again in the GIF above, before dropping a clever backhand pass for a primary assist. His puck carrying and playmaking abilities are both on full display here.
His patience with the puck can be seen in the GIF above, as he buys plenty of time for his teammates to get open, before making a smart backhand pass to start a breakout.
Nice rush from Sandin back at the Top Prospects Game. He sets up Zadina with a great scoring chance: pic.twitter.com/vwycOb6MN3— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 26, 2018
He got off to a rough start at the Top Prospects Game, but certainly looks comfortable in this clip, as he beats multiple defenders out-wide, before setting up Zadina in the slot.
I am sure there will be commentators who think Sandin was ranked too favourably because he is the “new toy” in the organization. Typically, I find that the opposite is true, as good prospects don’t always get the credit they deserve until they have played at higher levels. Sandin is a prospect who completely deserved to be a late first round pick, and these players are generally more valuable than mature players who are fringe NHL talents.
Sandin is not a lock to make the NHL, but his reliable play style could make him a second pairing defenceman who can play in all-situations. He has a good chance of making Sweden’s World Junior team this winter, and could play on their top pairing in the 2019-2020 event.
Since the Leafs looked stacked on forward talent for the forseeable future, players like Sandin and Liljegren could be vital to the team’s success. While he is unlikely to be Toronto’s next 60 point defenceman, his well-rounded style regularly helps in the transition game, and it will be exciting to watch him improve and grow in the years to come.