It was another good effort from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ B squad on Friday night in what will be the last NHL appearance of the season for many of the Marlies-bound players on the roster.
The Leafs more than doubled up the Red Wings in shots (37-18), out-possessed them 61/39 at 5v5, had the better of the play and chances in three-on-three overtime, and found a way to win via shootout.
Rasmus Sandin – He played nearly half the game — all-situations minutes — and again he looked outstanding at all facets of the game tonight. He was smarter than virtually all the players on the ice — for both teams.
He has a ton of defensive and offensive tricks up his sleeve, which is unusual for such a young player. He knows how to gap up aggressively but safely keep his feet in a position to recover if an attacker gets a step on him; he’ll stack his feet heel-to-toe in concert with his blade down and square to the puck carrier, sealing up the ice well and deterring shots/passes through him — something a lot NHL defensemen don’t do well.
Reverse hits, bumps, rub outs, wedging attackers off, picks, lots of communication with his partner, textbook play on a 2-on-1 against — it was all on display tonight, to say nothing of his offensive play. He created and jumped into holes, joined the rush, kept what looked to be dead plays alive with smart plays off the backboards, and broke out with ease under a heavy forecheck. Dubas has used the term “problem solvers” to describe certain defensemen and Sandin certainly fits the bill. He plays with tons of swagger and intelligence.
He’s controlling play and barking at vets during play and before faceoffs. This isn’t a surprise to those that watch the Toronto Marlies regularly — they saw it all last year — but for the uninitiated, this is how Sandin usually plays. He’s more advanced in all areas of the game than any Leaf defenseman at that age in recent memory. Normally, with defensemen of his ilk, it’s the defensive side of the game that you have to worry about, but it isn’t a worry at all with Sandin.
There is simply very little to knit pick about his game.
#Leafs Rasmus Sandin report:
– led team with 30:54 TOI
– 0 points
– CF% 53.1, xGF% 65.5
– 5v5 1 goal for, 1 against
– 0 shots against in 2:07 PK time
– 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 blocked shots
— Bill Comeau (@Billius27) September 28, 2019
Dmytro Timashov – He showed well in expanded minutes — including the PK — with lots of jump to his game. It looked like the confidence of being shortlisted to make the team has him playing with a greater purpose out there. He uses a long stick, protects the puck well with a strong lower half, and creates space for himself, backing defenders off with speed and checking up to create separation and make plays. He sees the ice well and almost always hits an open man on the tape. We’ll have to see how the fourth line gels with Frederik Gauthier and Jason Spezza if Timashov is indeed on it. It’s not a fourth line many would have drawn up on a napkin in the summer.
Nic Petan – Babcock urging him to play with more intensity and urgency looked like it worked as he played his best preseason game tonight, but he has looked good versus mostly AHL lineups before. His work rate was up and we were seeing hard, purposeful backchecks from him. The broadcast team was saying with certainty that he should be on the team; that’s probably a little wide of the mark, but at 24 going on 25 years of age, he should look great in a preseason game considering the competition he was playing against.
Petan is going to be a 5v5 player as there is no room on the PP and he hasn’t yet killed penalties. He’s not skilled enough to play a pure skill game where you can stomach lackadaisical play away from the puck knowing he makes up for it on the scoreboard. Between the legs drop passes that get turned over at the blue line aren’t going to cut it; he’ll need to figure out how to be a relentless checker that has some finishing ability if he wants to play for any coach, not just Babcock.
In another review, we’ve used Tyler Ennis from last year as an example Petan can mold himself after. Ennis was not particularly interested in the defensive side of the game when he came to Toronto, but he was tracking back through the neutral zone and competing on loose pucks as hard as any Leaf by — roughly — the midway part of the season. We’ll watch and see if Petan can bring this type of game again versus a real NHL team where he won’t have as much o-zone time and time with the puck as he did while playing on the PP and starting 3v3 OT vs Detroit’s B squad.
Jeremy Bracco – The areas of weakness were clear here throughout preseason: Not strong enough on pucks and too much knee-locked coasting around the rink. He’ll only go as far as his commitment to improving his skating mechanics, hockey strength, and work rate away from the puck allows. He made a pass on the Darren Archibald goal (no doubt, he outwaits defenders and threads the needle very well), ran the PP well from the halfwall, and finished nicely for the shootout winner.
Pierre Engvall – Once a game or so, we see a really nice flash of speed along with a net drive that makes you really turn your head. It’s a tantalizing combination of size and skating ability. Still, there were too many 50/50 shifts with not much happening for him to really force his way into the conversation this camp. In his defense, he never got much in the way of linemates (he was playing with Clune and Aberg tonight, and the line didn’t accomplish much besides getting scored on once).
This is an intriguing ongoing development project for the organization, particularly if he sticks at center this season with the Marlies. Engvall hangs above the puck a lot; it can leave him a little less committed on the forecheck than what you want from a winger, but it’s a nice trait for a center. He plays paddle down all over the ice as well, which is a nice habit to have for a pivot (knees bent with his stick down at all times, multiple shoulder checks, safe positionally). You can see why the Marlies‘ staff saw some natural center tendencies in his game; we’ll see if he’s smart and dynamic enough to progress and play it at the next level.
Pontus Aberg – There was not a lot going on here in preseason. There wasn’t much checking or creating turnovers, and he did not contribute much offensively. For a player with his NHL experience, he needed to impact the game more than he did in camp. This looks like a waiver-bound player.
Kenny Agostino – He skated well and did the digging that led to the Matt Read goal. He did kill a few plays on his own and made some unnecessary high-risk plays that resulted in turnovers, but his line came out with a 73% possession share. He’s probably done enough to stick on the roster as an extra; he’s been involved in enough offense this preseason and showed the kind of jam Babcock is looking for down the lineup.
Hudson Elynuik – The Marlies have a good AHL player here, it appears. Not sure he will ever play in the NHL, but he’s hardworking, covers the ice well for a big man, and is pretty consistent from shift-to-shift. Not seeing a lot wrong with game; he just lacks a high-end skill you can hang your hat on as a standout trait, but otherwise he is a pretty versatile (and very big) center. Nice to see him rewarded with a goal — he’s done a lot of things right this camp to put himself on the map.
Martin Marincin – There’s no denying he came to camp in shape, a little quicker, and more confident. Not trying to be too harsh here, but it always feels like a house of cards with Marincin until he proves otherwise; a house of cards in the sense that he’s not a natural puck handler/carrier/mover and a few ugly gaffes seem to go straight to his confidence level. The Leafs don’t need 80 games of excellence from Marincin, though; if he can give them serviceable bottom-pair and PK minutes for the month of October, there is help coming.
Jordan Schmaltz – It wasn’t a great night for him, and it hasn’t been a great preseason after a decent initial debut in Newfoundland. He has been guilty of overhandling the puck and it’s led to a number of glaring gaffes. He’s tried to do too much and the mistakes start when he isn’t keeping his game simple. If he wasn’t the best player on his pairing, he probably would have looked better than he did. All of that said, he led all players in shot attempts with 22 for and 3 against (88 cf%), scoring chance differential (5 for, 1 against), and a low-event high-danger chances differential (1 for, 0 against).
Michael Hutchinson / Joseph Woll – There was not much work for either goaltender, but Hutchinson soaked up rebounds and was square to shooters for the most part. The two goals against were a little flukey, but not unstoppable. It’s hard to say if he’s done enough; it’ll largely depend on how much the Leafs like what they see on waivers. Woll looked calm and composed in very limited minutes (only 6 shots against).