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Sandin emerging as offensive defenseman for Maple Leafs

Toronto prospect, once a forward, building toward future roster spot

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Rasmus Sandin was not always a defenseman. He became one by accident.

Growing up, the 18-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs prospect was offensively inclined and played as a forward with his minor hockey in Sweden. His coach tried him on the point on the power play one game when he was about 12 years old, and it led to immediate success. 

He set up a few goals for a teammate, who happened to be his coach's son. The next practice, Sandin found himself listed as a defenseman and has played there ever since.

"I guess my offensive side has always been there and kind of led to me becoming a defenseman," Sandin, the No. 29 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, said during the Maple Leafs development camp last week. "I turned to defense pretty early still, so I've been developing a lot defensively. I'm a creative player and use my instincts and try to do that in the defensive zone as well."

Video: Maple Leafs draft D Rasmus Sandin No. 29

Switching to defense has not hampered his offensive ability, which was on full display last season, when he had 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) in 51 games with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League.

"I'm a smooth player with the puck, my skating is smooth and I read the game very well," Sandin said. "That's the best part of my game right now, how I read the game. My passing ability as well is a strength. I'm not the biggest guy (5-foot-11, 186 pounds), but I feel like I have the assets being a smaller guy to play in the best League in the world."

Sandin is eligible to return to the OHL this season, but could also play professionally in Sweden or with Calder Cup champion Toronto of the AHL. Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said that decision will not be made until September, and Sandin will participate in the World Junior Summer Showcase with Sweden in Kamloops, British Columbia, beginning July 28.

In the meantime, Sandin's primary focus will be adding muscle and improving his speed.

"Adding some strength, I think all the players who got drafted this year want to add a couple of pounds," Sandin said. "Also my speed, making sure I can get up to top speed a little quicker, that's something we've been working on at development camp. … If I can keep improving that and get my speed going, I think I'll be ready soon."

The Maple Leafs have had a long history of success with Sweden-born players, including Hockey Hall of Famers Mats Sundin and Borje Salming, each idolized by Sandin growing up.

"Sundin was probably one of my favorite players growing up," Sandin said. "I met Borje and Mats, just a couple of times taking pictures when I was younger. I don't know if they know who I am, but it was a big thrill getting to meet them when I was younger."

As a result, Sandin was well aware of the Maple Leafs, which he said made hearing his name called by them at the draft even more special.

"It was a relief kind of, I was very nervous sitting up there waiting for my name to get called," he said. "I didn't have too much expectations going into the draft, anything can happen there. I always hoped to be a first-rounder for sure and when I heard my name, especially from the Maple Leafs, it was special for sure."

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