The 2018 NHL Entry Draft is all about Rasmus Dahlin. While the franchise-altering blueliner has then potential to be a superstar in the NHL, there is another Swedish defenseman named Rasmus that people should be paying attention to.
Rasmus Sandin was drafted by the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds 52nd overall in last summer’s CHL Import Draft. After starting the season playing for Rögle BK in the SHL, the left-shooting defender came over on loan to join the Greyhounds and quickly became one of the most reliable players on the best team in junior hockey. It didn’t take long for Sandin to adapt to the North American game. After only a month in the OHL, he was able to step into top-pair minutes with the Greyhounds when the lost Conor Timmins to the World Juniors and then to injury.
In many respects, Sandin is a lot like a left-shooting version of Timmins. Both players have a strong two-way game and while no single physical tool jumps out as elite, they are well above average in nearly every area.
Smart is the first thing you’ll hear when talking about Sandin. Any disadvantage caused by his lack of size or speed, is overcome because of how well he thinks the game. He has great gap control in his own end and is really good at funneling attackers away from dangerous spots on the ice. His defensive zone position is some of the best you’ll see in the CHL and he anticipates plays well to cut down passing and shooting lanes.
Sandin has excellent puck retrieval and is very smooth with his transition from defense to the breakout. He’s calm with the puck and won’t rush to make a quick pass just to get the puck out of his zone - he makes the right pass. He stretches the ice extremely well and is able to lead his teammates through the neutral zone with an accurate outlet pass. When he does skate the puck out of his own end, he will often slow down the pace, waiting for the breakout to develop around him.
From an offensive perspective, Sandin doesn’t have a big slap shot from the point. He will use a strong and low wrister or snapshot, erring on the side of accuracy over power. He knows when to creep in from the blue line, giving his teammates an extra option inside the faceoff circle. His great vision and strong passing skills allow Sandin to quarterback the powerplay when needed.
He finished third among draft eligible OHL defenders with 45 points in 51 games and trailed only Evan Bouchard with 0.24 goals per game. During even strength play, Sandin had more points per game than elite offensive defenseman Ryan Merkely and finished tied with Merkley for 5v5 best goal production among defenders.
The one negative people like to point out about Sandin’s game is that he’s not the fastest skater around. He’s a good skater but not to the level that you usually see from undersized defenders. He makes up for this by using his elite awareness to keep the play in front of him as much as possible. While he lacks the high-end speed, he’s got great agility and balance thanks to a low center of gravity. These help him to win battles for loose pucks and clear the front of the net, something that might become harder when playing against professionals.
Internationally, Sandin has represented Sweden at every junior level and should be a lynch-pin for their team at the U20 next season. He was the captain of their U18 entry at last year’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, suggesting that his coaches and teammates recognize leadership characteristics in him both on and off the ice.
Sandin will likely never be the Norris Trophy nominated #1 defender for your team, but he certainly has the potential to be perfect second-fiddle on a contender. With patience and proper development, Sandin’s spot in an NHL top-4 is an inevitability.
Since he is on loan to the OHL this season, whichever team drafts Sandin will have a number of options in front of them. He could return to The Soo to dominate junior hockey, but he will also be AHL eligible since technically he’s getting drafted out of the SHL (the same situation as Alex Nylander a couple years ago). There’s also the possibility that his new organization decides that going back to Rögle is the best option for his development.
What the scouts are saying
In terms of puck poise, Sandin’s one of the calmest teenage defensemen you’ll see get drafted this year. He played alongside Adam Boqvist at the Hlinka and I thought he was just as good. He’s a very good skater but his puck distributing and one-on-one play is what should make him an NHL mainstay for at least a decade. - Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst
Sandin is a gifted two-way defenseman…a skilled puckhandler who has the confidence to attempt long stretch passes up the middle of the ice or to skate it himself…his hands are an asset in corralling the puck off a hard pass or making a slick deke…although a decent skater with adequate speed, his edgework isn’t as crisp as it could be and it affects him when moving laterally or changing directions…lowering his center of gravity and using longer leg pushes in each stride could also increase his speed…he isn’t afraid to carry the puck through the neutral zone himself, and is shifty and creative with the puck on his stick…strong at fending off forecheckers in his own zone, as he can outwait physical contact and absorb a hit before skating the puck out of trouble or dishing it to a teammate…he has very good defensive awareness, particularly when switching checks or choosing when to pressure opponents below the goal line…not afraid to play the body to close off an opponent along the boards…has some impressive potential as a puck-mover who can also be effective in his own zone. - Future Considerations
Where he might get drafted
The most likely scenario is that he will be drafted somewhere in the 20-31 range. That said, with his play this season, Sandin has jumped up from a second round pick to the point that no one should be surprised if he was selected in the top-20. Then again, he’s under six feet tall, so we also shouldn’t be surprised if old-school thinkers allow him to drop a lot further that his talent dictates.
Projection: 16th overall