Buddies Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are battling for one spot on the Maple Leafs defence. It’s close

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Mention the name of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren pops up.

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Mention Liljegren, Sandin’s name pops up.

It’s almost as if the Maple Leafs’ young Swedish defensemen are connected: one a left-handed playmaker (Sandin), the other a right-handed all-rounder; One a first-round pick in the 2018 draft, the other a 2017 first-rounder (Liljegren).

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He was often paired with the Marlies of the AHL, imagining that one day he would play with the Leafs. Now is the time for both to move from the potential pool to the bigger ones. Problem is, the only work open on the Leafs’ blue line at the moment: with Travis Dermott, a left-handed shot that can play to either side.

Neither lacks confidence.

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“I always believed in what I was doing and now I will continue to do so,” says Sandin.

“I’m going into my fifth year (pro). I need to work,” says Lilzegren. “I have to fight for my place on the roster. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Sandin has generated more buzz and is one of its biggest benefits. If he delivers on that promise, he could replace Morgan Reilly as the team’s offensive defender. Given that Reilly is in the final year of his contract, the sooner the better for Sandin’s development.

He scored an impressive goal from point-on-three-on-three in Friday’s blue and white game, and a beauty in the shootout portion. But overall, his training camp has only been in the middle.

“A little up and down,” said Sandin. “I need to clean up some stuff. And some things, I think I’m doing well too… I’m learning from it, and every time I play a game I expect I’ll take a few things out of it and do better in the next game.

He says he is feeling a little slow.

“I’ve got to speed up the puck a little bit more, make everything a little quicker. You’re still a little used to the practice you’ve been doing during the summer, and it’s clearly not as much speed as you would during a game. is … everything can always be better, so I must work on everything.”

His biggest supporter – and sounding board for when things go wrong – is his main competitor, Liljegren.

“We always talk to each other,” Sandin said. “We spend a lot of time together and I love Timothy so much. He’s a great person to be around all the time. When we’re at the rink, we always talk hockey. We just go through every practice.” Let’s talk a little bit about what we can do better… Outside the rink, we’re just trying to have fun and take our attention away from hockey.”

Sandin is prone to defensive mistakes in a way that Liljegren is not, but there is no real buzz around Liljegren who may have been destined to become the prototype Swedish defenseman – Karl Gunnarsson or Anton Strallmann, of that kind of blueliner. Think about what goes unnoticed until you realize it. Bad things don’t happen when they’re on the ice.

“I feel more secure with the puck in there,” Liljegren said. “I have to clear some turnovers, play solid defense. And I try to contribute on offense as well.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe doesn’t give much thought when it comes to his defensive prospects.

“It is too early to say how much progress has been made from one season to the next,” Keefe said. “With respect to Rasmus and Timothy, they look strong. But how that translates to snow, I think, is a little early for that.

Sandin admitted that he and Liljegren are in the same position: “We just need to keep our heads up all the time, keep working hard and keep asking everyone else on the team, our coaches, from everything we do. We must learn from it. We just have to keep grinding.”

Kevin McGrann is a Star Sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran
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