Rasmus Sandin joined Good Show on Sportsnet 590 to discuss his 19-year-old season so far, touching on Sheldon Keefe’s coaching style, his experience in his NHL stint to start the year, and Timothy Liljegren’s development.
If you were assessing your own game, even from when you broke camp with the Leafs, where do you think your biggest improvement has been?
Sandin: To be honest, everywhere. I think I was more prepared for the season than last year. Last summer was really busy with the draft combine and everything with that. And I didn’t even know where I was going to play last season. This season, it was a lot easier to just prepare knowing I was coming to Toronto to play here. I was really prepared for the season. The improvements were obviously there, but at the same time, I think my confidence was a lot higher this year. As a hockey player, that’s kind of how you build your game. That was a big thing for me this year.
What about the six games with the Maple Leafs and the confidence you might have gotten from making the big team initially? How has that affected your season going forward?
Sandin: It was a good confidence boost there at the beginning. Coming down to the Marlies, I kind of knew what I can do up with the big guys, too, with the big club. That was obviously a big help for my confidence. Coming down here and getting a bigger role… Up with the Leafs, I was averaging about 13 minutes or so a game. Down here, I am probably playing double. As I said, when you get confidence as a hockey player, that is how you build your game. That was a good start for me, obviously.
You took a big hit against Detroit, and after you got sent down, the message was essentially, “The game is really physical and they didn’t want to have that toll on you.” Did you agree with that assessment at the time? Do you see it any differently now?
Sandin: It’s different playing up there, but hockey is a physical sport and always is going to be. I think it’s not only for that. I can see both good and bad stuff with being up there. As a young player, you obviously need a bit more ice time, too, to develop. Getting down here and playing a lot more minutes, I think that will help my game, too, though. I think Toronto has one of the best if not the best development teams in the world. I am just listening to them and trying to work hard every day and get better.
Are you able to look at the success at some of the other players who have come through the organization and the way they’ve developed? With a lot of those guys exceeding expectations — even guys drafted later like Andreas Johnsson, a seventh-round pick — and does that give you a little more trust with Kyle Dubas and this organization that the path they choose, however patient they ask you to be, is one you’re more agreeable with?
Sandin: Absolutely. Andreas is a guy I really like looking up to. I have been spending a lot of time here with him, too. He has been a good guy for me to be around. Obviously, he was down here with the Marlies for a couple of seasons, and now he is playing really well up there. Hopefully, he can get back into a game here soon. With the trust there, I’ve had trust in everyone in this organization right from when I got drafted. I trust the whole organization with what they want and what they want me to be.
You must have had visions of sticking the whole season in the NHL. Was it disappointing? How did you deal with that?
Sandin: You obviously want to be up there. That was my goal coming in. I know it is not easy to crack a roster when you are 19 years old as well, but that was one of my big goals this year — to crack the lineup — and I did. After that, I was just trying to play as well as I could every game and every practice to stick around. Obviously, you are going to be disappointed when you are getting sent down, but you’ve got to see the good things about it. I think I did that in a really good way. This season has been pretty good so far.
How would you describe your relationship with Sheldon Keefe? How do you perceive him as a head coach?
Sandin: My relationship with Sheldon is great, I think. He was a huge part of my last season. It was a great first year for me. He was a big help to me. It is not easy to get into a professional league and especially not the American League as an 18-year-old. We always had good communication during the year by showing video clips on what I can do better and what I do well. We had really good communication. He was a huge part of my success from last year.
There is a lot of buzz about how he is different and how he is collaborative. Is that something you’ve noticed already with him? What makes Sheldon Keefe different than some of the other coaches you’ve had in the past?
Keefe: Well, he plays music in practice. That is one thing — which I like. I don’t mind that at all. He just has really good communication with all of the players. He handles players kind of differently — in a good way. Some players he talks a little bit more with. Some players he doesn’t talk as much with. I think he has a really good balance of that — trying to communicate with players and trying to see what they want. He really knows how to coach every single individual. That’s going to help a team a lot.
Can you give us a little insight into Timothy Liljegren’s development and where he is at and if you think he is ready to take that next step?
Keefe: Right now, you can’t really talk to him because he is having a good couple of last games. He’s kind of cocky about that. He has had a really good year so far. He’s really deserved those callups. We are both waiting for his first game to come. He has been working on everything. He was really good since camp this year and has just done a really good job. I’ve just seen highlight clips, but he scored a few goals here lately. He’s just a great player who is ready to make the jump. It’s not very easy to crack the D roster here on the Leafs, but he is doing a really good job down here and he’ll be up there soon enough.
Is the future of the Leafs blue line a top-four pairing with you two?
Sandin: I’d like to see that. It’s not easy to take a top-four role on an NHL team. I think if we both just do the right things here, we can do some good things with the Leafs later.