ARLINGTON, Va. — Only two games into his Capitals career, Rasmus Sandin is already feeling comfortable.
The young defenseman hasn’t had a chance to visit the Washington Monument or check out the local restaurant scene since being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he has appeared in two games for the Capitals and made a strong impression. Only the second player in franchise history to tally five points in his first two games, Sandin was tested with important responsibilities right away and handled them as well as the team could’ve hoped.
With the incumbent Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary each missing the last two games while John Carlson has remained out since taking a puck to the head Dec. 23, the Capitals have lots of open spots on the blue line especially after trading Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson. Sandin has been the biggest beneficiary of those opportunities, skating on the Capitals’ top defenseman pairing and handling the point position on their first power-play unit.
“Just based on what's happening, there's five guys that started the year [on defense] that aren't here right now, and so there's a void that has to be filled,” head coach Peter Laviolette said at practice Wednesday. “Rasmus fills some of the things that John [Carlson] can do with regard to moving pucks, power play, first unit power play, taking down minutes, contributing offensively, so opportunity just based on what we've been going through is here for him and he's done a really nice job in the first two games.”
Over his first two games with the Capitals, Sandin has averaged 23:23 of ice time. He only exceeded that total in one of his 140 games with the Maple Leafs over the last four seasons. Though the Capitals do expect to get Fehervary back for Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Devils and Jensen isn’t far behind, Sandin is still going to continue to see opportunities that the crowded depth chart in Toronto prevented him from receiving.
“It means a lot,” Sandin said of the opportunities he’s getting in Washington. “It’s very fun that they have that belief in you and now it’s up to me to keep playing good to stick in that spot. So, it’s been a lot of fun and it’s fun that the coaching staff believes in me for sure.”
In Toronto, Sandin averaged just 17:59 of ice time — sixth among Maple Leafs defensemen to appear in at least 40 games this season. He did see significant minutes on the power play, but the presence of Morgan Rielly, who’s 28 years old and signed to an eight-year extension, blocked him from expanding his role with that unit any more than it already had.
“We like his age, we like his game,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said following the trade deadline. “He's a puck-moving skill defenseman, he's a competitive guy. Real good 5-on-5 player so far, can add a little bit to the power play and there's upside here. I think he's played mostly third pair in Toronto. He's gonna get an opportunity with us to play higher in the lineup and I think he's excited about it and I think he can take advantage of it.
“There's only room to grow for him. He's 22, 23 years old and he's only going to get better going forward. So, we see hopefully a guy that we can build around moving forward, a young top-four defenseman that will play here a long time hopefully.”
So far, Sandin has looked pretty comfortable for a player who’s only suited up for two games in a Capitals uniform. He lauded his new teammates for welcoming him in “with open arms” and mentioned fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom as a player who has gone the extra lengths to help him get acclimated in D.C.
“I obviously knew who he was,” Sandin said of Backstrom. He was a guy that I looked up to when I was younger. Right now it’s pretty easy to look up to him still. So you know, what a player he is and what a guy he is. He’s been a little extra help and it’s very comfortable to come here when he’s around as well, showing me around and helping me out. So I knew him a little bit before, but right now it feels like I’ve known him forever. So it’s awesome to play with him.”