The Toronto Maple Leafs have loaned prospect Kristians Rubins to the Frederikshavn White Hawks of Metal Ligaen (top tier hockey league in Denmark).
The move comes after a growing list of prospect loans for the team, including loaning Filip Kral and Maksim Zhukov to Chance Liiga, Yegor Korshkov and Mikko Lehtonen to the KHL, and the since-traded Jesper Lindgren to Allsvenskan.
Who is Kristians Rubins?
Rubins isn’t the best or most flashy Leafs prospect, but he’s still someone to look out for.
Rubins was a fantastic find for the Newfoundland Growlers, who signed him out of Medicine Hat of the WHL ahead of their inaugural ECHL season.
Since then, he’s made leaps that most wouldn’t have expected at all. While becoming a key piece of the Kelly Cup-winning Growlers, Rubins also became a depth defenseman with the Toronto Marlies, playing 15 games in his rookie season.
After earning an AHL contract, Rubins spent the entirety of the last season with the Marlies, playing 47 games and putting up 14 points. His season and his development progress earned him an ELC with the Leafs, meaning he’s set to have earned an ECHL, AHL, and NHL deal in just three years.
What’s made the 22-year-old into a guy the Leafs feel is worth keeping an eye on?
Kristians Rubins Scouting Report
Well, for starters, he’s 6’4 and 221lbs. Something that stands out to me about him is that he’s a surprisingly smooth skater, not too common for his stature.
Defensively, his skating is a big help, he’s able to outrace his opponent for the puck and can keep up with the play. Although he doesn’t use his frame to throw too many hits, he does use it effectively on defense. He’s able to close the gap between him and his opponent, as well as limiting any room for the opponent to make a play. Even though he’s pretty physical, he doesn’t take too many penalties, taking three all season long in 2019-20. He’s a safe defenseman who’s a huge help on the blue line.
Offensively, I think he has more potential than he’s given credit for. For most defensemen, the offensive play is generally just to take a slapshot from the point. Rubins can do that, his slapshot is pretty good, but it’s not his go-to play. Instead, when he does take a shot, he generally opts to skate further into the zone and take a wrist shot from the faceoff circle, producing a nice low-quality chance for a teammate to take advantage of. He’ll also opt for taking a wrister from the point often.
What I think is interesting about his shot production is what he doesn’t do as often. He’ll sometimes opt to use his size and skating to get by the opposing defense, getting a high-quality shot on goal on the rush. While it didn’t land him a goal this season, his flashes of offensive creativity are something to look out for.
However, one of his biggest assets offensively is his ability to break out. His first pass is effective and is something that will help him take his game to the next level.
Overall, Rubins is a safe, smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman who can use his size effectively.
I think Rubins’ development points towards him likely becoming a depth defenseman at the NHL level, with his ceiling being as a third-pairing defenseman.
One comparable I’ve liked is Martin Marincin, although it’s not completely accurate.
They both have similar frames, defensive-minded defensemen who can move the puck, yet don’t fully use their size.
I think there’s one big difference though. I think Rubins looks much more comfortable with the puck. Even though I think he could use some more patience with it at times, he doesn’t look like a deer in front of headlights with the puck.
As Rubins tries to gain a full-time role with the Marlies this season, the Leafs are hoping that his tools carry over to the NHL level. After all, his comparable, Marincin, looks like a star at the AHL level, not so much at the NHL level.
What the Move Brings for Rubins
I think this move can be handy for Rubins for a couple of reasons.
The press release from the Danish team says that the move was made with the expectation that Rubins would be back in Canada for the Leafs’ training camp, where he’s expected to attend for the third year in a row. Although there isn’t a set date, they likely expect it to start around mid-November.
Nonetheless, they also acknowledged that Rubins could be in Denmark for longer, due to the uncertainty around NHL training camp and the season as a whole.
In Denmark, Rubins faces a lower level of hockey than he would in the AHL and, arguably, the ECHL. It gives him an opportunity to refine his game while still playing against professionals.
With the White Hawks, he’s not playing on a weak team at all.
There are some names that NHL fans will recognize. Justin Shugg was a Hurricanes prospect, drafted in the 4th round in 2010. After 5 seasons with the Hurricanes organization, where he played 3 NHL games, Shugg found his way to Europe, where he’ll play in Denmark after stops in Latvia, Germany, and Finland.
Rubins’ work will be cut out for him, he won’t be guaranteed a top spot. Among the White Hawks’ left-handed players, Kyle Hope has already locked up the top spot beside Mads Larsen, and guys like former captain Rasmus Sondergaard, as well as Christian Mieritz, will be a challenge. However, the Leafs likely believe that Rubins isn’t far from the NHL level, so they’ll likely expect Rubins to be able to steal the top role, or at the very least, appear in their top-four.
Hopefully, Rubins takes the time to utilize his offensive potential further, as well as potentially seeing how he does if he plays more physically.
They won’t have to wait to find out, Rubins is already in Denmark, and the White Hawks expect him to be able to suit up as early as Tuesday, two days after the loan was announced.
I think the Leafs are as high on Rubins as I am. In April, Marlies head coach Greg Moore said this: “(Sheldon Keefe) told me to keep my eye on him and that he was really impressed with what he was as a defenceman.”
Moore later said: “I was really impressed with, No. 1, who he is as a person, on and off the ice. Especially off the ice, his continued thirst for education and learning and growing as a person, how good of a teammate he was, and all of those factors applying to his gameplay and how much he improved from the beginning of the season to the pause. He really added a lot of different layers to his game, and it was fun to see.”
It’s safe to say that both the Marlies staff and the Leafs staff think they have something special in Kristians Rubins.
We’ll see how he does in Denmark, and he’ll also hope to play the full season with the Marlies, locking a key role.
Don’t be surprised if you see Rubins in the big leagues soon enough.
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Featured Image: Christian Bonin – TSGPhoto.com