The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were one of the powerhouses of the CHL this season. They were projected to do great things and aspire to a Memorial Cup until the Hamilton Bulldogs stole their chance to compete in the tournament by edging them out in the OHL Finals.
One of their standout players was import defenceman Rasmus Sandin, on loan from Rögle of the SHL, who played good minutes in their top four during the season.
Birthplace: Uppsala, Sweden
Date of birth: March 7, 2000
Weight: 190 lbs.
Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
In his first season on North American ice, Sandin took barely any time adjusting, being a constant producer from the back end for the Greyhounds. He finished 10th in the entire OHL in points per game for defencemen at 0.88, contributing 45 points over 51 games.
The 13 points he put up in 24 playoff games were a drop from his regular-season numbers, but stats don't tell the whole story. The post-season is where Sandin started showing an even greater potential, and stood out even compared to the blue-line veterans of Sault Ste. Marie.
Sandin has an all-around solid game. He is a very effective puck-mover who doesn't forfeit an inch on defence. He has great four-way mobility that he uses to jump out of his pivots to poke the puck away from forwards trying to go around him off the rush. He also can impose himself physically in one-on-one coverage, and that despite his stature at 5'11”. He positions himself well, which enables him to cut passes and neutralize his man in defensive coverage.
Overall, he is a smart defender who can be trusted for tough defensive missions.
But Sandin is even better with the puck on his stick. He has an incredible poise in possession, especially on the breakout where his desire to orchestrate plays for his team shines. He has a will to create easy transitions for his forwards out of the zone and the Greyhounds often got great chances at counter-attacks from the defenceman's precise passes and vision.
Sandin can play the simple-and-effective game, but this sequence from the Greyhounds’ series with the Bulldogs illustrates well what he can do when he is tuned in. At his best, he can locate and use the smallest seams into the opposing coverage or forechecking pressure, and exploit them with his stick-handling, puck-protection, and passing abilities to spring his team's offence.
He can also quickly transform defence into offence by breaking up opposing plays before the defensive blue line to spring his attackers for odd-man rushes.
While Sandin isn't the fastest skater, he has good agility and acceleration. He had no problem joining those rushes as another option for his forwards, participating in the tic-tac-toe plays that Sault Ste. Marie were creating with all the talent they had on the ice.
In the offensive zone, Sandin likes to pinch up to try to make backdoor plays happen. He also uses short passes with his teammates to open space for himself and get shots from the slot.
The defenceman doesn't drive plays from the point as much as other top defenceman in the draft, but has a good shot that he gets on net. He can also act as a quarterback on the power play. He uses his mobility to find lanes to fire in, and, as he jumps up in the zone, takes advantage of the confusion in the opposition's coverage to find his low forwards with passes, creating one-timers and great scoring chances.
Looking at the stats tracked for a few games for Sandin can give an idea of the identity of the Swedish defenceman. The comparison with Evan Bouchard, the higher-ranked blue-liner, is also interesting in this case.
While Sandin doesn't have the offensive numbers of Bouchard — he doesn't create scoring chances or make passes to the slot nearly as often — he still has some qualities that are reflected in the stats. He looks like a much better defender off the rush than Bouchard and doesn't have many weaknesses. Sandin's team also fares well in shot differential when he is on the ice compared to his teammates.
The one thing that the defenceman might need to work on more, with the perspective given by the tracked numbers, is the success rate of his passes to exit the zone. It's possible that Sandin might be looking for plays on the breakout that aren't always there. Using more dump-outs to teammates could work better in certain situations. It could also point to the necessity of a quicker execution.
Future Considerations: #19
NHL Central Scouting: #11 (North American skaters)
Rasmus Sandin is one of the more complete defencemen in the draft. His ability to control the game remains quite underrated even with his high ranking. He is a quiet force, but also capable of great displays in possession that show his confidence; a quality that can also easily translate to the entire team when he is on the ice.
He impressed greatly in the playoffs and has shown that he still has the same poise and determination even when the games really matter.
Since Sandin has been on loan to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this season and Rögle still holds his contract for 2018-19, a return to the SHL could entice the young defender, especially since Rögle now has a completely new coaching staff in Cam and Chris Abbott. Both of them were highly impressed with Sandin when Eyes On The Prize spoke with them last week for a future project.
The NHL organization selecting him should get a player who can be called upon to play in all situations. He won't necessarily be the defenceman of choice to play on the first power-play unit, but he still has shown abilities that should make him effective from the point in the offensive zone.
He could very well become a staple of an NHL team's blue line, and for that reason he deserves to go in the first round. I wouldn't be surprised if he is chosen in the teens on draft day.