Kyle Bukauskas Notebook: Sandin has lots of fans in Leafs’ room

NHL insider Andrew Berkshire joins Lead Off to discuss the positive effect of breaking in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren early, since they are the future of your defence corps, even if they're not quite ready to step in full-time.

Every other Monday, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas will give you a peek behind the curtain and share stories about what he sees and hears in his job as a rink side reporter.

Based in Ottawa, Kyle’s notes will sometimes be about the Senators, but he’ll also include content from wherever Hockey Night in Canada takes him.

Here’s this week’s collection:

1. On Oct. 20, 2007 Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane played their first game in Toronto as rookies in the NHL. It was also their first appearance on Hockey Night in Canada. Of course, that was a big deal to Toews, a Winnipeg native.

As the story goes, Toews went to bed early the night before and Kane, then his roommate, turned in a little bit later and woke Toews up in the process. Toews struggled to get back to sleep and didn’t feel great on game day. He was furious.

Then, as he put it, “Kaner had himself a night and I did not.” Kane put up a couple assists in a 6-4 Blackhawks win over the Maple Leafs.

Last Saturday, with everyone anticipating Kane to reach the 1,000-point milestone on Hockey Night, it was Toews who commanded the spotlight with a pair of goals and four points.

No surprise Kane hit 1,000 the next night at home, but for Toews, playing on a Saturday night “never gets old.”

2. Zack Smith of the Blackhawks is coming off quite the week. On Tuesday, he returned to Ottawa for the first time since being traded last summer. The next night he doubled his goal total for the season in a win over his old division rival, the Montreal Canadiens.

On Friday night in Toronto, Smith, a big rock music fan, popped over to the Horseshoe Tavern to listen to the Anyway Gang. A band consisting of Sam Roberts, Chris Murphy of Sloan, Dave Monks of Tokyo Police Club and Menno Versteeg of Hollerado. (Talk about Canadianity!)

Smith’s love for music played a role in bonding with his captain. Early in training camp he wore a ‘My Morning Jacket’ shirt to the rink and Toews couldn’t believe he had a teammate who liked that band, too. To this day, it’s the only time one of Smith’s teammates commented on that shirt. Between the two of them and Blackhawks equipment manager Troy Parchman, they exchange record suggestions to listen to on the road.

Smith was one of the good ones to deal with in Ottawa. Glad to see he’s found a role in Chicago.

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3. Boy do the Leafs need all they can squeeze out of their banged-up blue line right now. When Rasmus Sandin was sent down to the Marlies after a brief run with the Leafs at the start of the season, he received a text from John Tavares.

Tavares told him, “you’ll be back here soon. If you ever need anything, let me know.”

Sandin seems to have a lot of fans in that dressing room, but hearing that from Tavares went a long way towards making the 19-year-old truly feel like he was a part of things at the NHL level.

Sandin has talked about feeling way more comfortable since his latest recall and that text from the Leafs captain is likely at least part of the reason why.

4. The Canadiens 4-2 loss to the Oilers earlier this month was their eighth consecutive game without a victory, as you may have heard. After that game, new teammate Ilya Kovalchuk took the entire team out for dinner in downtown Montreal.

The Habs have won four of five games since and Kovalchuk has eight points in eight games in a Montreal uniform.

The climb still feels a little too steep for the Canadiens to get back in the playoff hunt, but it has been impressive to watch how quickly Kovalchuk managed to earn the respect and admiration of teammates and the fanbase given how frustrating of a season it has been in that market.

5. I grew up on Vancouver Island. Hockey fans of a certain generation that followed the junior scene will remember “The Shift” by Milan Lucic, then of the Vancouver Giants, during the 2007 Memorial Cup.

Cale Fleury grew up on the prairies and was eight years old when Lucic ran roughshod over the rest of the CHL’s best. Yet, has no memory of The Shift. “I wasn’t really interested in junior hockey yet back then,” he admitted.

Fleury caught everyone’s attention last week, including Lucic’s, when he popped one of the heaviest hitters in the game during Calgary’s visit to Montreal.

The 21-year-old credits his edgework to being able to stay upright after those collisions. His teammates will tell you he’s not a guy who throws a ton of weight around in the gym, but they marvel at the size of his calves.

Side note: if Fleury and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (who recorded his first career fight last week) were to become the latest edition of “The Bash Brothers,” I am very much here for it.

6. Saturday’s game vs. the Flames was Thomas Chabot’s first logging less than 22 minutes of ice time since Dec. 9 against Boston. A span of 17 games.

His workload has been well-documented this season. He goes into the Senators’ bye-week averaging more minutes per game than anyone else in the NHL.

The team athletic staff feel Chabot manages his energy well during the game. The big thing for them is making sure he replenishes the calories lost at the end of the night. Most players typically burn between 1,500-2,000 calories over the course of a game and surely Chabot has surpassed that mark a few times this season.

In an era where morning skates are becoming extinct, they want Chabot to have a minimal workload during his downtime to ensure maximum output when the puck drops.

Given Chabot’s Instagram post Monday, he appears to be doing just that during his week off. Well deserved.

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