One man’s injury is another’s opportunity.
Think back to what Morgan Rielly’s injury has done for Rasmus Sandin. The 2018 first-round pick cracked the Leafs’ roster out of camp, got a cup of coffee at the NHL level, and got sent back to the AHL where he was also given a chance to carve up the World Juniors. The 19-year-old Sandin easily could have spent the rest of his season in the minors honing his game.
But when Rielly and Jake Muzzin, Toronto’s top two left-handed defencemen got injured around the same time, Sandin was thrown right back into the fire. Muzzin has since returned from the Injured Reserve, but Rielly’s absence will last another few weeks yet. That’s fine for Sandin as he’s taken the opportunity and ran with it.
In eight games since his recall from the Marlies, Sandin has one goal and five points while logging 14:47 minutes per game. Despite his age, his coach and teammates have been impressed by his poise as he plays like a savvy veteran. Even when Rielly returns, it’ll be hard to remove Sandin from the lineup. He’s established himself as a player who makes the team better.
Now, with Cody Ceci sidelined, Timothy Liljegren, Toronto’s 2017 first-round pick, has a chance to do the same thing. Ceci is expected to miss a significant amount of time with an ankle injury, and with the Leafs already thin on the right side of the blueline, Liljegren will get an opportunity to show what he can do.
Of course, ice time won’t be handed to Liljegren if he doesn’t earn it. Sandin wasn’t just fed ice-time because there was nobody else there. The Leafs could use Martin Marincin on the left side of the third pair while swapping Travis Dermott to his off side, They could also feasibly call up somebody like Kevin Gravel from the Marlies to fill Ceci’s role as a defensive defenceman, but Liljegren is the natural fit given his importance to the future of the organization and his handedness being on the right side.
Liljegren has 29 points in 38 games for the Marlies this season and has looked like the team’s best defenceman not named Sandin. It’s time to give him his shot.