Sandin’s big chance
by Lucas Aykroyd|02 JAN 2019
Defenceman Rasmus Sandin was named Sweden's Player of the Game after recording two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan to clinch Group B.
photo: Minas Panagiotakis / HHOF-IIHF Images
If your aspiration is to play defence for the Toronto Maple Leafs, going for lunch with Borje Salming is a pretty sweet opportunity. That’s what Sweden’s Rasmus Sandin did back in the summer.

Salming, the Leafs legend who played 1,148 NHL games and was paired on the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team with Russia’s Vyacheslav Fetisov in 2008, made a big impression on the 18-year-old.

“He’s one of the best Swedish defencemen who ever played,” said Sandin. “It was an awesome experience to have lunch with him and get to know him a little bit. It was really cool.”

Sandin was drafted by Toronto in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft (29th overall), and his rookie campaign with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies has kicked off nicely with five goals and five assists in 18 games. With coach Tomas Monten’s unbeaten Swedish U20 team in Victoria, the 180-cm, 85-kg World Junior rookie has formed an effective pairing with another highly touted and offensive-minded blueliner, Adam Boqvist.

When Adam Ginning and Philip Broberg were unable to suit up due to illness in the final Group B game against Kazakhstan, Sandin starred with two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win. The former MODO, Brynas, and Rogle BK player now shares the points lead (four) among Swedish defencemen with Boqvist and captain Erik Brannstrom.

“I think it’s been pretty solid defensively from my side and my D partner,” said Sandin, who logged a team-high 25:05 of ice time against the Kazakhs. “It’s been a pretty good start.”

Sandin, who signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Leafs in July, was naturally disappointed that Timothy Liljegren can’t be here in British Columbia to help Sweden quest for its third World Junior gold of all time. His fellow Marlies defenceman is still out with a high ankle sprain.

Yet Sandin was happy to get the news on 1 December that Leafs forward William Nylander, who was named tournament MVP with Tre Kronor’s gold-medal 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship team, had signed a six-year, $41.77-million contract.

“It was really nice,” said Sandin. “I know him a little bit outside. I know his whole family. I think we were playing a game, actually, and I was in the penalty box, and they told me he signed. So that's how I got to know. It was a good feeling for sure.”

It also felt good when Sandin, aged 11, watched on TV as Mika Zibanejad scored the overtime winner against Russia in the 2012 World Junior gold medal game in Calgary. Needless to say, this left-shooting, puck-moving defenceman’s game has come a long way since Sweden’s last U20 title. And while lunching with Salming was an experience he’ll never forget, it’s also important to have contemporary role models. Who does he like best?

“I’d say Morgan Rielly’s doing really well in Toronto right now. Erik Karlsson is great to watch, as is Drew Doughty. There’s a bunch of good players I really like to watch.”

Last season, Sandin played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – Wayne Gretzky’s former OHL team. The Uppsala-born kid recorded 45 points in 51 games and made the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team. At these World Juniors, if Canada defeats the Finns in its quarter-final, Sandin could find himself confronting former Greyhounds teammates like Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton.

But first, Sandin and his teammates need to get past the determined and well-coached Swiss in Wednesday’s early quarter-final at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. What kind of a game does he expect from Switzerland?

“It’s playoff time, so it’s going to be a little different – a little more physical and higher-paced. It’s going to be a fun game to watch and play in.”

From the sounds of it, Rasmus Sandin is hungry for a whole lot more than just lunch.