A couple of right-shot defenceman, two pass-happy centres with room to grow, and one really solid-looking teenage AHLer.
Let’s check in on how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ intriguing draft class of 2018 is doing at the quarter mark of the season.
Rasmus Sandin, 18, D, Toronto Marlies
Drafted: First round, 29th overall
Season to date: 10 GP | 4 G | 2 A | 6 P | -1
The education of Rasmus Sandin has been a compelling theatre playing out in the shadows of a Maple Leafs season rich with storylines.
There was drama surrounding where he’d even play this season. A second stint with GM Kyle Dubas’s alma mater, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, for whom Sandin piled up 45 points as an OHL rookie? A return to Rogle BK, his professional club back home in Sweden?
Well, it’s difficult to argue against Sandin developing his two-way game with AHL Marlies, where the 18-year-old slides in to the left of reliable minor-league veteran Vincent LoVerde on the second pairing and acclimates himself to the small ice. A very similar situation a teenage Timothy Liljegren found himself in as a first-round pick one year ago.
Holding his own on an NHL rink, even in pre-season, was “a dream come true,” according to Sandin. Toronto’s legendary Swedish blueliner, Borje Salming, bought him lunch, and Leafs coach Mike Babcock was impressed enough by Sandin’s performance in training camp that he playfully refers to the prospect as “The Sandman.”
“The CEO of Sandman Hotels. He should get some sort of deal there, I think,” Babcock said. “He’s got real good instincts and makes real good plays. He leverages his body — which isn’t big at this time [5-foot-11, 183 pounds] — but he leverages his body well.”
After a thumb injury delayed Sandin’s Marlies career, he exploded with five points in his first six outings, earning power-play reps and overtime looks out of the gate.
Looking comfortable and confident as a teenager against men, Sandin is learning to make quicker decisions and throwing his modest weight around when the situation calls.
“I think that [physicality] is a part of my game as well,” Sandin said. “Maybe some guys don’t really know about that too much.”
With the future of Leafs lefties Ron Hainsey and Jake Gardiner hazy beyond this season, Sandin could push for a roster spot sooner than expected.
Sean Durzi, 20, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Drafted: Second round, 52nd overall
Season to date: 9 GP | 0 G | 10 A | 10 P | +11
One of four righthanded defencemen Dubas added over the off-season in a concerted effort to address an organizational need, Durzi was a Leafs fan raised by Leafs fans in Mississauga, Ont. After being passed over in the 2017 draft, the 20-year-old who grew up admiring Bryan McCabe considers this a deferred dream come true.
Although he’s still searching for his first goal of the season, the fourth-year OHLer has continued the point-per-game pace he established in 2017-18, when he put up 49 points in 40 regular-season games and another 16 in 11 post-season contests.
Durzi is a slick passer with great hockey sense and offensive flair. Right now, he’s a plus-11 defender on a minus-4 team.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, 18, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Drafted: Third round, 76th overall
Season to date: 24 GP | 2 G | 16 A | 18 P | -10
The youngest player selected in the 2018 draft performed well enough in training camp this September to earn himself a three-year entry-level contract, but the Little Russian That Could took a while to parlay his tease on the big stage (SDA got about 11 minutes of NHL pre-season game action) into his third autumn with the Peterborough Petes.
The slight, playmaking centreman just turned 18 on Sept. 15. Drawing inspiration from Mitch Marner, Der-Arguchintsev is a slippery, pass-first forward with a creative offensive mind and an “infectious personality” (Babcock’s phrase).
Does he need more development? At least two years’ worth, probably more.
His shot (two goals) needs power, his frame could fill out, and his play without the puck (a career minus-41 in the OHL) is a work in progress.
SDA represents the kind of swing-for-the-fences draft pick president Brendan Shanahan pushes his scouts to make. He’s a guy who has already captured the imagination of Leafs Nation diehards.
Riley Stotts, 18, C, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Drafted: Third round, 83rd overall
Season to date: 20 GP | 7 G | 7 A | 14 P | -4
A Winnipeg-born centreman trying to model himself after the hardworking Mark Scheifele, Stotts suffered what he calls “a freak accident” early in his junior career when a teammate stepped on his foot with an unguarded skate blade in the dressing room.
Stotts now looks at that grotesque injury, which sidelined him for a month, as an early dose of adversity that has strengthened him for the long run. The same could be said for his being traded from the Swift Current Broncos to the Calgary Hitmen mid-season last year. Since moving to Calgary, Stotts’ production soared with his increased importance on the roster.
Stott thinks pass and has a knack for finding holes and creating offence, but below the circles, his snapshot can be just as dangerous. The prospect’s third WHL season is on pace to be his most productive.
Mac Hollowell, 20, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Drafted: Fourth round, 118th overall
Season to date: 22 GP | 8 G | 21 A | 29 P | +1
An undersized, right-shot defenceman outta — yep, you guessed it — the Soo, Hollowell is off to an offensive tear in his fourth and what he hopes will be his final year in junior. Humming along at a 1.31 points-per-game clip, Hollowell has been drafted twice by Dubas and turned out pretty good for a 12th-round selection in the OHL Priority Selection.
“He definitely believes in me, believes in the way I play. I think I fit their mould pretty well,” Hollowell, another born-and-bred Leafs fan, told The Standard.
Like Durzi, Hollowell, 20, felt a sense of motivation last season when he wasn’t selected in the ’17 class and has funnelled that inspiration into a strong start for the Greyhounds (15-6-4-1), the second-best squad in the OHL’s Western Conference.