Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: New Player Development Focus?

Kyle Dubas has often been viewed as an “outside the box” GM. This has changed how the Toronto Maple Leafs have adjusted their draft strategies. 

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In an interview following the 2019 NHL draft, John Lilley, the director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs divulged some information that’s pretty interesting, in regard to the Leafs draft focus. Lilley stated that the focus heading into the draft was on identifying two key traits in players, skill and intelligence. This is a shift far from what was the focus of the Leafs for many years. Right up to the 2016 and 2017 NHL drafts the Leafs prioritized size and physical acumen over intelligence. There seemed to be a focus on drafting the biggest and strongest athlete and developing the decision making later. This was most evident in players like Nicholas Mattinen, Keaton Middleton and even Yegor Korshkov. Whilst many of the picks certainly weren’t fantastic skaters there was a priority on strength, size and physical prowess.

The New Philosophy

Following the 2018 NHL Draft, the Leafs made a few picks that gave a glimpse of a new focus. Even the selection of Rasmus Sandin, whilst a player with the physical tools of Joe Veleno was available was a surprise to many. Joe Veleno boasted incredible speed and was considered by many a top 10 talent. However, the Leafs traded down and still selected Rasmus Sandin at number 29. Thus far, it looks a brilliant pick. Furthermore, to this we saw players like Sean Durzi, Mac Hollowell and Filip Kral selected in the later rounds. These, like Sandin, were prospects who were undersized and lacked a stand out attribute, yet were very intelligent hockey players according to most scouting reports.

Kyle Dubas and John Lilley both mentioned the focus on a player’s skill and intelligence as being the prime target for the scouts leading into this draft. The NHL has long leaned on drafting the best athlete or the best physical specimen and relying on their coaches to mould an NHL brain around the body. Dubas and Lilley look to be challenging this idea and instead focus on finding young players with an NHL head and letting their team develop the body. Considering the Leafs have people like Barb Underhill, Hayley Wickenheiser and Darryl Belfry it would be a waste not to use them.

Dubas’ Comments

Perhaps the most intriguing comment following the draft was what Dubas had to say about the focus following the draft. He specifically mentioned certain names, including Rich Rotenburg and Trevor St Agathe. These are names that many Leaf fans are likely unfamiliar with. However, if you watch the 2017-18 Calder Cup final win you will see Trevor St Agathe out on the ice lifting the cup with Dubas. Trevor has had a long career in the strength and conditioning field and spent time in the NBA and NHL in his field. Dubas climbing through the ranks has gifted him with the opportunity to truly see how player development works from its core. That has given him the insight into the value individuals such as Trevor, Rich, Barb and Darryl can bring to a young players developmental curve. Targeting the strength, nutrition and physical health side with Rich and Trevor, the skating with Barb and the skills work with Darryl offers a very complete player development system.

I personally am a huge fan of people like Mike Boyle and Matt Nichol, who are the premier S&C coaches when it comes to hockey. In a podcast a few years back Matt Nichol, who formerly worked with the Leafs as the first fulltime S&C coach in NHL history, brought up a number of concerns surrounding the game. He spoke on how he felt that NHL teams and those in power around them lacked consideration and understanding for the role of sports science. He spoke about studies he completed whilst working with the team and how even with evidence some coaches seemed resistant to make changes to training styles or focuses that were proven less optimal by science.

These latest comments by Dubas show a clear recognition of those in the sports science field he has on his team. His time with the Marlies and the Greyhounds has afforded him the opportunity to see first hand of the effect that his player development staff can have on his prospects. This should give great confidence to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that their GM is forward thinking and ready to place trust in his team to develop intelligent players into more complete athletes.

 

Sources: Hockey-reference.com, Eliteprospects.com

Featured Image Credit: Nikos Michal

Toronto Maple Leafs

Patric Sandin: The Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Dad Interview

We all wonder how a prospect feels on draft day. Did they get any sleep? Did they eat? Do they have an idea of who is interested in drafting them? What we never ask is how the parents are doing. How were they feeling? What was their son’s draft day like?

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Prospects and draft picks get all the attention on draft day, rightfully so. Who gets them there though? How do they feel about the process and day of the draft? Luckily enough, we were able to talk to Patric Sandin, the father of Toronto Maples Leafs 2018 first round pick Rasmus Sandin. With Fathers Day and the 2019 NHL Entry Draft all coming up very shortly, Patric Sandin was able to give us a few minutes of his time just before the Toronto Marlies conference finals series.

Patric Sandin, Hockey Dad

Tony Ferrari: Thank you for taking the time do do this with me today!

Patric Sandin: No problem!

TF: At what age did you realize that Rasmus was going to be a special player? 

PS: He was really early with everything, reading, speaking, cycling and in all sports. But I think I saw him as a special player when he was 13-14 years. Especially in the biggest hockey tournament in Sweden called TV-pucken. He was really good and was contributing big time when his team won the gold. 

TF: Rasmus has handled the pressure of the Toronto market well. He’s a smart young man and has shown that in the media. What was Rasmus’ personality like as a young child? 

PS: He was really outgoing and mature. He was always in the middle no matter if it was with older people or in his own age. He is the kindest person you’ll ever meet but if you do him wrong he will tell you.

TF: Smart man. Do you have a memory of Rasmus’ childhood that sticks out? Hockey or non hockey related? 

PS: One of many memorys is when I saw him on a bicycle for the first time. I was sitting in my livingroom and relaxed when I saw something coming down from a quite big slope. It was Rasmus four years old on his mothers bike doing like 30 km/h!

TF: That’s almost faster than I can ride now!

PS: It was crazy!

TF: Walk me through your day on the day Rasmus was drafted. What did you do while you waited? Did you speak with Kyle Dubas at all? 

PS: It was some intense and hot days in Dallas with meetings and everything. But on the draft day everything was chill. My family and agents were just waiting for the night. Nice breakfast and a powerwalk, then lunch out in the city. Then the nerves beginning to come. We met Rasmus who had some last minute meetings. He was cool as always. When we came to the arena (American Airlines Center) we began to realize what was gonna happen. One of our family’s biggest moment.

During the draft I saw for the first time that Rasmus was a little tense. I can’t blame him. Name after name was called. I had a strong belief in Toronto and I was really hoping for the Leafs. Then it was #29 pick and the TV and Media started to approach Rasmus. The pulse started to rush.

My feelings can’t be described when they called Rasmus name. It was a moment I never forget. 

After everything happened so fast. We met Mr. Dubas and Mr. Babcock after the draft, and we also met the whole Toronto management the day after when they had a reception. It was really cool to sit down with Coach Babcock for a beer. Really great people in the organization. 

TF: That sounds like a day of excitement and nerves all mixed in one. Did you or Rasmus have a favourite NHL team as he was growing up? 

PS: Toronto with Borje Salming was my favourite. I don’t know about Rasmus but I think it was Toronto for him too.

TF: I know you have another son, Linus, who is making his way with HV71 next season. Did the two boys compete with each other or were they supportive of each other? A mixture of both? 

PS: Linus always helped Rasmus and Rasmus was always allowed to play with the older boys. They are supertight and talks on the phone almost every day.

TF: As a father to two professional hockey players, what is the most important thing you taught your sons? 

PS: Always give 100%. Always be a good friend.

TF: Rasmus has impressed thus far with the Toronto Marlies. He is exceeding expectations and the fanbase is beginning to get excited about his arrival with the Leafs in the next year or so. What is going to be your first thought when he calls and tells you that Kyle Dubas has called him up to the Leafs? 

PS: I have to go book my flight to Toronto directly!

TF: The season and production that Rasmus has put up this year with the Marlies has made him the highest scoring 18-year-old defender in AHL history. Has that set in for you or him? 

 PS: No I don’t think so. Maybe after the season it will.

TF: Have you attended any of Rasmus’ games here in Toronto? If so, what was that experience like? 

PS: We went to Toronto in november and watched some Marlies game. It was really nice. Love Toronto. We also went to a Raptors game also. Nice game yesterday with the last second from Kawhi. (The “Kawhi Shot” just happened the day before we spoke initially).

TF: Finally, if your children were reading this and you could give them one piece of Fatherly advice, what would it be? 

PS: Be good and treat people like you want to be treated. 

As you can see, the day of the draft and everything leading up and after are almost as nerve wracking for fathers as it is their sons. The path the professional hockey is a long and extremely hard it’s to take. Not everyone makes it there. Some don’t make it to the NHL. It’s a journey that is made so much easier by loving family, friends and a father who does everything in his power to make sure their child doesn’t hurt themselves riding a bike down a hill at 30km/h. Patric Sandin is one of many examples of a father doing his best to push their son to their peak and letting him grow into a mature young man looking to carve his career out on the ice of a National Hockey League arena.

Special Thank you to Patric Sandin for giving me your time! You were outstanding!

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Should They Look Into The Adam Fox Situation?

It was reported on Tuesday that Carolina Hurricanes prized defence prospect Adam Fox will not sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, opting instead to return to Harvard for his senior year, after which he will be granted free agency. But, what does this mean for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Adam Fox was one of the main pieces going to Carolina in the draft-day deal that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Fox, Dougie Hamilton, and Micheal Ferland. Fox was, and still is, highly coveted by the Hurricanes. The Flames selected the young defenseman in the third round of the 2016 draft out of the U.S. National Development Program, but after incredible freshman and sophomore seasons at Harvard, he shot up prospect rankings. The Flames tried to get him under contract before the 2018 draft, but Fox declined in favour of going back to college for his junior year. This December, prohockeyrumors.com reported that the Hurricanes were “very confident” that he would sign with them at the end of the season. Now, Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal says that he may shun them as well.

Why would he not sign with the Hurricanes?

The Hurricanes are a team with lots of defensive talent. This is evident in a quick look at their statistics this season. The Hurricanes rank top-10 in goals allowed (T-8), shots on goal allowed (3), CF% (shot attempts for) (2), and xGF% (expected goals for) (1). Their defensive pairings are so stacked with talent that they have to leave a prospect like Jake Bean in the AHL. Their pairings are as follows:

Jaccob SlavinDougie Hamilton
Brett PesceJustin Faulk
Calvin de HaanTrevor van Riemsdyk

Their fifth and sixth defensemen, de Haan and van Riemsdyk could play higher in the lineup on most other teams. Thus, this logjam of defensive talent could block a prospect like Adam Fox from receiving lots of minutes. This may be why he chooses to forego signing his contract this year and wait to sign with a team of his choice.

Precedent for the Leafs

Jimmy Vesey

Leafs fans have seen a situation like this before. The Nashville Predators selected Jimmy Vesey in the third round of the 2012 draft. Vesey, like Fox, played for Harvard. However, when GM David Poile offered him a spot for the end of the 2015-16 regular season and playoffs, Vesey declined, wanting to pick his own team instead. The Leafs spoke with Vesey and were finalists in the sweepstakes. Unfortunately, Vesey ultimately chose the New York Rangers—a team that undoubtedly had less talent than the Leafs, but significantly more minutes and a larger opportunity.

This example shows that the Leafs could have a realistic shot at signing the young defender when he reaches free agency for reasons I discuss below.

Zach Hyman

The Florida Panthers selected Zach Hyman in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Amid concerns regarding the Panthers’ chances of signing him, the Leafs traded for Hyman’s rights, giving up AHLer Greg McKegg in return. Of course, Hyman’s situation is different from Fox’s because Hyman was born in Toronto. This situation could be indicative of Fox going to a team other than the Leafs. Fox is a native of Jericho, New York, and it is rumoured that he may be interested in signing with the New York Rangers.

The Leafs and Adam Fox

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Fox, a 21-year old, is a right-handed-shot—an organizational need for the Leafs. In 32 games this year, he has tallied 9 goals and 39 assists for 48 points. He is a serious contender for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the best NCAA player. In 2017-18, he scored 6 goals and got 22 assists for 28 points in 29 games. He has played in the last two World Juniors with Team USA, the last one coming as an assistant captain.

The Leafs, unlike the Hurricanes, have very little talent on their blue-line, and all of it comes from left-handed shots. This summer, Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey’s contracts will expire, leaving two open spots in the lineup. Additionally, Nikita Zaitsev is often a target of trade rumours, and will likely be gone if Kyle Dubas can get a team to take his $4.5 million contract off his hands. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, and Igor Ozhiganov are nowhere close to having guaranteed spots in the lineup next year. This leaves only Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott, and Jake Muzzin—all left-handers—with the only guaranteed spots in the lineup for next season.

If Adam Fox signed with the Leafs, he would join an instant contender. Given the lack of talent on the right side, Mike Babcock would give him lots of minutes, likely in the top four. Calle Rosen, who is expected to be called up to the Leafs this week, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren, who may still need more work in the AHL are the only other legitimate candidates to make the roster next year. Simply put, the Leafs and Adam Fox are great fits for each other, and they would be silly to not consider agreeing to a contract should the defender reach free agency.

Fox is also good friends with two American Leafs prospects, who could influence his decision in free agency.

Of course, the Leafs will be very close to the salary cap after this summer. However, Fox’s first contract would be an entry-level deal, which is less than $1 million per year. For example, Jimmy Vesey’s contract with the Rangers was a two-year ELC worth $925,000 annually against the cap. It’s not guaranteed that Fox will reach free agency, or that Fox and Dubas will be in contact with him, but it would be prudent for Dubas to at least try, whether it be through free agency or a trade to acquire his rights. On the surface, at least, the two seem like a perfect fit.

 

All stats are from theScore, Corsica Hockey, and Elite Prospects.
Salary information obtained from CapFriendly

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Rasmus Sandin Returns

This past weekend saw the return of Toronto Maple Leafs defencive prospect Rasmus Sandin who returned from injury. 

Sandin was out for six weeks with an elbow injury which he suffered in the quarter finals of the IIHF World Juniors.  The Uppsala, Sweden native played in both of the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL team) games this weekend and did not look out of place. 

Game 1

In his first game back on Saturday against the Springfield Thunderbirds, Sandin had no points and finished the game with a +1 plus/minus rating in the Marlies 4-2 Win.  He spent most of the game paired with fellow Sweden countryman Andreas Borgman and the two of them were a good shutdown pair.  Sandin continues to show great work along the boards and with keeping opposing players outside of the defencive zone.  Later on in the game, he was rewarded with some time on the power-play where he did a great job holding the blue-line and keeping the puck in the Thunderbirds zone.  In his own zone, he showcased his ability to skate quickly and get the puck up the ice cleanly.

Game 2

On Sunday, in the 4-3 loss to the Belleville Senators, Sandin finished the game with an even Plus/Minus rating and continued to showcase his skills both with and without the puck.  His ability to read plays, adapt quickly and force opposing players to the outside are just three of the reasons why he has climbed the depth chart within the Maple Leafs organization since being drafted 29th overall in the 2018 NHL draft.  This weekend was a good test for Sandin to get back in to game shape and for the Marlies coaching staff to evaluate where he’s at both physically and mentally.

Going Forward

Beginning on Wednesday, I think we’ll start to see Sandin’s ice time increase back to where it was before he left for the World Juniors. With an increase in ice-time, you can expect Sandin to be an offencive threat once again. In addition, Sandin will also start to see more time on the power-play which should help his overall point totals.

Overall, the future looks very bright for Sandin. This summer will be a big test for the young Swede as he trains to try and get himself ready for training camp. If he can dazzle the Maple Leafs coaching staff, he could potentially be on the opening night roster.

With fellow Marlies defenceman Calle Rosen joining the Maple Leafs on a one-way contract next season it’ll be that much tougher for Sandin to make the Maple Leafs roster.  But, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Sandin spent some time in the AHL next season. He’ll spend some more time developing with Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe. Plus, he’ll be playing a huge role on the top defencive pairing and could be a call up to the Maple Leafs if and when one of their defencemen get injured.

pictures taken by Jeremy Ridgewell

stats from theahl.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Rasmus Sandin Has Been Impressive

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin has looked impressive and should be great addition to the Leafs blue-line down the road. 

As a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs it is so nice to see a prospect pool that is both deep and talented. The Toronto Maple Leafs farm system is stacked with many great prospects including Timothy Liljegren, Jeremy Bracco, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Pierre Engvall, Trevor Moore, Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, Rasmus Sandin and many others. But, the one prospect that has really caught my attention has been defenseman Rasmus Sandin.

World Juniors

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I was very impressed by his play for Team Sweden at the 2019 IIHF World Juniors. Sandin was part of an excellent Swedish team and was among some of the best Swedish defensive prospects including Adam Boqvist and Erik Brannstrom. 

Unfortunately the Swedes didn’t medal, but Sandin still had a great tournament. He was able to pick up 2 Goals and 2 Assists for 4 Points and a +4 rating in 5 games at the WJC.

In addition, Sandin showed at the international stage that he’s very good at protecting the puck and controlling the play both in his own end and in the offensive zone.

Toronto Marlies

Sandin has also been having a great regular season in North America.

So far this season, Sandin has spent his time playing in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies (the Toronto Maple Leafs minor league affiliate). In 18 games played with the Marlies, he has 5 goals and 5 assists. It is worth nothing that 3 of his 5 goals have been on the power-play. In addition, Sandin has the second highest Points/Game for a defenseman on the Marlies. At the moment, he’s averaging 0.56 points per game. 

Unfortunately, at the moment, Sandin is listed as being out of the Marlies’ lineup for 4-6 weeks with an elbow sprain that he sustained at the World Junior Championship. But, this injury shouldn’t slow down his development and Sandin should hopefully be back in the AHL by mid-February.

Evaluating Rasmus

There are a couple of things that stand out for me when I watch him play. His ability to move the puck quickly, his vision and his ability to protect the puck.  On October 26th, 2018 he scored his first AHL goal using his great vision to shoot the puck from the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning AHL affiliate) blue line through 4 or 5 players and beating Syracuse goaltender Eddie Pasquale.

Next season, I can see Sandin playing either top minutes for the Marlies or being the 6th defenseman at the NHL level. It’ll mostly depend on his showing at training camp, but if he has a strong camp then there is chance that he could be on the Maple Leafs blue-line to start the 2019-2020 season.

There is still a lot of season left to play and while he’s a bit banged up at the moment, it’s been a great season for Sandin and the Marlies.

stats from theAHL.com

featured photo image credit – Josh Tessler