Mike Babcock addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the decision to send Rasmus Sandin to the Marlies, the call-up of Kevin Gravel, the rotation on the bottom pair, Ilya Mikheyev’s impressive acclimation to the NHL, and more.
On the decision to assign Rasmus Sandin to the Toronto Marlies
Babcock: The bottom line is we gave him around [10-12] minutes the whole time. Constant battle just monitoring his progress. He had a real good camp and a real good exhibition and a real good start here. He can’t get on the power play in front of the guys we got and can’t get on the penalty kill in front of the guys we got. In the end, a real good night is 14 minutes. We just think managing our assets and getting our team to be the best we can, we feel we’ve done a real good job developing players. This is the best thing for his development. In the meantime, we’ve got guys who can play in those roles in the minutes that are allowed. This gets him on the power play and on the penalty kill and in all situations defensively that he wasn’t getting an opportunity to with us.
What was the message to him?
Babcock: Just that. To be honest with you, when you send a guy down, anything you say after “you’re going down,” he doesn’t hear. What you do is you go down there in four or five days. I’ll take the video stuff and I’ll sit down with Sheldon, then we’ll go through it. That will be a way better time. The message, when it’s bad news… I mean, they don’t hear you. We’ll revisit that in a little bit.
I don’t know even know, to be honest with you, if he thinks it’s that bad news. He knows how many minutes he was playing. When you’re sitting there and you’re not getting to go out there and you’d like to be out there, it’s not as much fun. When you’re 27 and that’s your job in the national league, it’s a lot of fun. When you’re 18 or whatever he is, it’s not a lot of fun.
Is there some value to playing 12-15 minutes a night in the NHL as opposed to a lot down with the Marlies?
Babcock: I think so, but if we felt he could get in those minutes on the power play and penalty kill… We can’t replicate it. It’s not like he is not getting another opportunity. We went back and forth. I think it is a good question and we went back and forth on it a whole bunch to see what we could do. Just by looking at our group and what we are doing, we weren’t affording him those opportunities. I am not saying we should’ve. That’s not what I am saying at all. The fact is we couldn’t get it and he’s going to get it there.
How will the dynamic work with Holl, Marincin, Dermott, and Gravel?
Babcock: Good question. We’re just going to watch them and whoever plays the best gets to play. When Dermy is ready, obviously, he is going to get an opportunity to play. In the meantime, those guys get an opportunity to battle for jobs.
How did Sandin handle the physicality? He seemed to be targeted a few times in those games.
Babcock: For sure. It’s just all part of getting used to it. That’s the other thing: I didn’t like it last game when he got hit in the end. As an 18-year-old, I didn’t have much appreciation for that, to be honest with you. But I also said to myself: What am I doing? In other words, you want to be ready for everything. I think that is a big part of managing your assets. You’ve got to look after them the best way you can. Sometimes you’ve got to be a prudent parent.
What did you like about Gravel in training camp?
Babcock: I thought he was real good. I thought he had a real good camp. Big body, defends. Good stick. Can get guys on his back and make little plays. We’ll just get him up to speed here and if he gets into a game, he’ll go from there. But we liked him at camp.
Is he someone you can see helping out on the penalty kill?
Babcock: That’s another thing, obviously. We just keep evaluating. I think we’ve done a real good job of staying patient. Now, it is easy to stay patient as long as you are winning some games. You’ve got to win games. In the meantime, you’re figuring out what you have. I’ve said it since day one that we’ve got to figure all of this out. We will.
Why has Ilya Mikheyev been able to make this adjustment so smoothly?
Babcock: Obviously, he is a real educated guy. He is a university graduate. His gal had already been to school at Boston College. He had more of an English base. As much as you speak English, you don’t speak English on the ice when it is going 100 miles an hour and people are yelling things and trying to show you things. What we’ve learned already as a coaching staff — when you think you’ve taught it good, you haven’t taught it good enough, so teach it better. But I think he is an impressive, impressive guy.
He is an everyday’er. What I mean by that is that he comes to work every single day and embraces… Some guys, the monotony kills them, but other guys embrace it and that is why they get better each and every day. He is a detailed guy and to me, he hasn’t even scratched the surface. There is a lot more there.
His speed, puck sense, and his hands maybe overcompensate for what he is missing out on language-wise initially?
Babcock: Yes, for sure. Now, I don’t think his hands offensively have shown at all like they are going to. He’s got a great stick. He’s smart. He picks things up fast. But I think he is more comfortable right now without the puck defensively. Not that he doesn’t have good hands or doesn’t make good plays — he does — but I think as he gets more comfortable, you’ll see more of that. Obviously, a real good player and we’re lucky to have him.
Do you anticipate Sandin being back at some point this year in the NHL?
Babcock: Good question. What we’ll do is continue to monitor our team and monitor that team. Everything is about the Leafs winning for sure, but part of that winning is making sure players develop right. The guys that we’ve overcooked seem to get to a higher end than the guys we rush. All you’ve got to do is look around the league. There is a whole bunch of poster children on waivers this year that were rushed into the league at 18 for no reason. What’s the matter with being the best player and having more fun than everyone else and having the puck more than everyone else? I’ve never heard one kid complain about being the best player.
What’s the status of Travis Dermott nearing a return?
Babcock: It’s just coming to tell you the truth. He is feeling better. That is a huge part of it. I noticed that the wasn’t in an ugly grey sweater today. He was wearing black. Obviously, our training staff thinks he is on his way and our therapy staff. Now he’s got to get up to speed in the contact drills and get going. We’re pushing them as hard as we can to get them ready as fast as we can.