Sandin, currently with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, says some good performances of late from Liljegren have him on the cusp of being a full-timer with the NHL club.
“It’s not very easy to crack the ‘D’ roster here on the Leafs. They’ve got really good defencemen,” Sandin said Wednesday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Good Show. “But he’s doing a really good job down here and he’ll be up there soon enough.”
Liljegren, 20, has been called up to the Maple Leafs on two occasions this season, but has yet to make his NHL debut.
In 31 games this season with the Marlies, the Swede has four goals and 18 assists.
Sandin, a fellow Sweden native, said he would like to see a future in the NHL where both he and Liljegren are in a top-four role with the Leafs, but knows it’s not an easy position to obtain.
“I think if we both do the right things here, I think we can both do some great things with the Leafs,” he said.
Sandin is fresh off a bronze medal for his country at the world junior championship after Sweden beat Finland 3-2 over the weekend. The 19-year-old was the top scoring defenceman at the tournament with three goals and seven assists in seven games.
He started this season in the NHL with Toronto and played six games before being sent back to the AHL for increased playing time. Sandin has done well since joining the Marlies with 12 points in 19 games.
He said he saw both positives and negatives to playing in the NHL at an early point in his professional career.
“As a young player, you obviously need a bit more ice time too to develop. I think getting down here and playing a lot more minutes, that will help my game too,” Sandin said.
The Maple Leafs are loaded with good, young Swedish talent from Sandin to Liljegren in the AHL to William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson in the NHL.
Sandin said he spends a lot of time with Liljegren and calls him a good cook.
As for a return to the NHL, Sandin said he hasn’t been told when he would be back, but isn’t trying to focus on it. He said he has a good relationship with current Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe – formerly the Marlies’ bench boss – and communication between the two is solid.
“That was one of my goals this season, to crack the lineup, and I did,” Sandin said. “After that, I was just trying to play as good as I can every game and every practice and try and stick around.
“Obviously, you’re getting disappointed when you’re getting sent down. At the same time, you have to see the good things about it and I think I did that in a really good way.”