Maple Leafs’ Sandin, Robertson, & Liljegren Face Critical Season in 2021-22

Maple Leafs Nicholas Robertson

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right, Leaf fans? For the fifth consecutive season, the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 NHL campaign. This time, they collapsed after throwing away a 3-1 series lead to their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. It’s safe to say next season certainly has that “now or never feel” to it for many of Toronto’s core players such as Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and John Tavares, among others. 

In addition, Toronto has three promising youngsters who face a major season ahead of them in 2021-22. Who are they and why is next year so critical for these talented young players? Let’s read on and find out.

Rasmus Sandin, Defenseman, Age 21

First up is talented puck-moving defenseman Rasmus Sandin. After being drafted in the first round, 29th overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Sandin has shown glimpses of what he can be on hockey’s grandest stage. As a player, he’s a good skater, sees the ice well, and is strong in transition. Sandin (proudly) represented Sweden twice at both the 2019 and 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships. He’s also appeared 65 times for the Toronto Marlies, Toronto’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate club. Now it’s time for Sandin to lock down a roster spot on the Leafs’ blue-line. 

Now at the tender age of 21, the Uppsala, Sweden native has to show the Maple Leafs that he belongs in the show on a full-time basis. The only way to do this is to perform at the highest level.

After appearing in only nine regular-season games for the Leafs last year, Sandin will be under immense pressure to show that he “belongs” with the best of the best. The time is now for Toronto’s crown jewel defensive prospect. It’s safe to say this is a player who will be under the proverbial microscope when Toronto opens its training camp next month.

Nicholas Robertson, Left-Wing, Age 19

Up next is talented, goal-scoring winger Nicholas Roberston. Born and raised in Acadia, California, Robertson is one of Toronto’s most talented prospects by a country mile. With this being said, he faces an important campaign heading into 2021-22. 

After skating in four games inside the NHL “bubble” last summer, Robertson only appeared in six regular-season games with the Leafs last season due to injury and lack of performance. With the Marlies, he had a much more confident showing. In 21 games, he scored five goals and 16 points with a plus-three rating. Robertson has had success in junior with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and with Team USA at the 2020 World Juniors. Although he’s 19 years of age, it certainly feels as though Robertson is going to have to “hit the ground running” at camp to earn a spot among Toronto’s top-12 forwards. The skillset, speed, hands, and work ethic are certainly there. Now, let’s see what he can do with the “cream of the crop” in the National Hockey League. 

Timothy Liljegren, Defenseman, Age 22

Our final youngster appears in the form of talented blue-liner, Timothy Liljegren. At 22 years of age, the Swedish-born blue-liner simply has to perform “up to par” for Toronto next season. In addition, spots are certainly “up for grabs” on Toronto’s blue-line, especially after the departure of Zach Bogosian and the contract uncertainty of pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) Morgan Rielly

After being drafted in the first round, 17th overall back in 2017, the Leafs have been patient and understanding of Liljegren’s development. Unfortunately, he has struggled to “bring it every night” while donning the Maple Leaf’s crest. From a sheer skill and eye-test perspective, Liljegren is a real, interesting talent. He’s strong on his skates, possesses admirable size (6’0, 190 pounds), and is a real slick puck-handler. He’s also a great skater, strong passer, and has a real “feel for the game.”

Early on in his career, his defensive awareness and decision-making have come into question as a player. But if he can piece it all together (hopefully as early as next season), there’s no doubt that Liljegren is the real deal.

The Maple Leafs will be a team to “keep your eyes on” ahead of the 2021-22 NHL campaign. It begins with their core-four forward group and trickles down to the rest of the roster. Nevertheless, the aforementioned Sandin, Robertson, and Liljegren will have their own spotlight on them as the club’s prized youngsters. As fans, we can only wait and see how it will all play out. 

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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