Leafs prospect Liljegren’s world junior availability in jeopardy after injury

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Timothy Liljegren’s chances of playing for Sweden at the world junior hockey championship are in jeopardy.

The 19-year-old Marlies defenceman suffered a high ankle sprain Dec. 1, but the nature of the injury wasn’t revealed until after the AHL team’s games this weekend.

While he’s currently listed as week-to-week, even mild high ankle sprains often require an extended recovery period.

Any timeline of that sort doesn’t bode well for Liljegren taking part in the world juniors for a second straight year.

“I think it’s fair to say based on the nature of the injury, but it’s the kind of thing (where) sometimes it heals quicker than you think and the diagnosis might be different,” Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said following Tuesday’s practice. ”I think that’s what they’re hoping for at this point, just in terms of how they’re working with it.”

Keefe added Liljegren is doing everything he can to be ready for the tournament that begins Dec. 26 in Vancouver and Victoria.

“He’s working every day,” said the coach. “I know that’s the hope — to be a part of it — but certainly it’s not a sure thing.”

The Leafs announced earlier this month that Liljegren and fellow Swedish blue-liner Rasmus Sandin would be released by the organization to play at the world juniors.

The pair are scheduled to link up with the national team after the Marlies visit Winnipeg on Friday and Saturday.

Keefe said it’s his understanding that Toronto’s sports science department will be in contact with the Swedes to determine Liljegren’s availability for the event.

“We’ve authorized and released him to go,” Keefe said. ”The injury has complicated things, but I suspect he will be spending time with the Swedish club and they’ll make a call collectively.”

The 17th pick in the 2017 NHL draft, Liljegren has two goals and six assists in 19 games with the Marlies this season after putting up 17 points (one goal, 16 assists) in 44 outings as the second-youngest player in the AHL in 2017-18.

Liljegren added two assists in seven games at last year’s world juniors in Buffalo, N.Y., as Sweden took home silver after falling 3-1 to Canada in the final.

Sandin, meanwhile, has four goals and three assists in his first season with the Marlies after the Leafs made him the 29th overall selection at last June’s draft.

It’s possible the 18-year-old will be counted on even more heavily than originally expected by a Swedish team that won’t have Buffalo Sabres star defenceman Rasmus Dahlin and could also now be without Liljegren.

Marlies defenceman Calle Rosen — who just signed two-year, US$1.5-million contract with the Leafs that kicks in next season — said Liljegren has taken a major step forward from last year’s rookie campaign.

“He’s getting a lot tougher competition this year,” said Rosen, 24. ”It’s fun to see how he handles that.”

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