The Toronto Maple Leafs have a bright future ahead. Since the new management team was put in place, the Maple Leafs have made some very smart moves in developing their top end prospects.
William Nylander is the first of the big three to make an impact at the NHL level. The eighth overall pick in 2014, Nylander has drawn rave reviews for his creativity, poise and offensive instincts. Not to be outdone, Mitch Marner, the dynamic forward of the London Knights, was widely considered the best player in junior hockey this past season.
Marner was nigh unstoppable and guided London to a bevvy of awards, the biggest of all being a Memorial Cup championship at the end of the year.
Recently though the attention of Leafs nation has been on a couple of their other young guns. Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly are both representing Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. Let’s break down how each player has looked through two games.
The Hockey Writers coverage of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 is being brought to you by PrimeSport, the official Fan Travel & Hospitality Package Partner of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Morgan Rielly is one of the brightest spots on the Maple Leafs roster. The young defenseman flourished under Mike Babcock last season, notching nine goals and 27 assists for a career-high 36 points. The former Moose Jaw Warrior also saw significant minutes on the top defense pairing, where he was given the task of shutting down the best players in the league.
Rielly has been playing significant minutes with Aaron Ekblad, the mammoth defenseman who patrols the blueline for the Florida Panthers. Rielly hasn’t looked out of place at all. He’s been smooth and confident, and in the second game against Team Europe, he found the scoresheet for the first time.
He was able to sneak a shot from the point that deflected off of Mark Streit and into the net behind goaltender Thomas Greiss.
Playing against NHL players is nothing new for Reilly, but the Maple leafs can only be happy that their stud young defensemen is seeing important minutes and has looked great in the early going.
You’d be extremely hard-pressed to find a player who has more hype surrounding him going into his first NHL season. That’s partly because Matthews is the most recent first overall pick and is seen as a massive talent. The other side is the team that drafted the big American centre.
Toronto appears to finally be on the right track, and winning the lottery and adding a player of the calibre of Matthews is huge for the direction of the franchise. This year was a unique situation for Matthews.
He won’t be going through an NHL training camp as he would in every other year. Instead, he’s representing Team North America, a squad made up of a collection of the best young stars that Canada and the United States has to offer.
Through two pre-tournament games, Matthews hasn’t looked shy or timid. In fact, he’s thrived and has been given more responsibility and praise by his coaching staff and teammates alike. He’s extremely confident with the puck and is making some fantastic moves, especially out in the offensive zone.
He found the scoresheet after recording an assist on one of two goals scored by the aforementioned Ekblad. Matthews did the bulk of lifting on the play, keeping possession before fluttering the pass over. Todd McLellan, Team North America’s head coach, had nothing but good things to stay about the Leafs newest player and is quoted as saying, “he’s not intimidated by any of the players that are out there. The Leafs will have a very good player for many, many years.”
That’s extremely high praise for the most recent first overall pick. While some may look at Matthews inclusion to the roster as a detriment, the choice may actually be incredibly positive. He gets the opportunity to play with and against the best that the NHL has to offer.
That can only help his growth as a player, as he gets ready for his first NHL season. Both Rielly and Matthews will have huge roles to play for the Maple Leafs in 2016-17. The World Cup is serving as a very nice tune up for both young stars.