Maple Leafs’ Rielly Has Become One of the Best 2012 Draft Picks

When the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted defenseman Morgan Rielly in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, it was during the first round, but he wasn’t one of the top four choices. Instead, he was the fifth draft choice made. The first five picks were Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers), Ryan Murray (Columbus Blue Jackets), Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal Canadiens), Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders), and finally Morgan Rielly (Maple Leafs). 

Draft PositionPlayerDrafting Team
FirstNail YakupovEdmonton Oilers
SecondRyan MurrayColumbus Blue Jackets
ThirdAlex GalchenyukMontreal Canadiens
FourthGriffin ReinhartNew York Islanders
FifthMorgan RiellyToronto Maple Leafs

This week, as I was thinking about Jack Campbell’s first NHL All-Star Game, I also considered that Morgan Rielly had never been an NHL All-Star. In my mind, Rielly deserves more respect as a player. This season, he’s clearly become the Maple Leafs’ top defenseman.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I can’t even imagine if another team choosing in front of the Maple Leafs had the foresight to have chosen Rielly before another one of the four players chosen before him. It would have made a huge difference on the Maple Leafs’ team. 

Rielly Has Outperformed Almost Everyone in His Draft Class

Since Rielly was drafted fifth by the Maple Leafs in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he’s certainly outperformed the four who preceded him (Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, and Griffin Reinhart). 

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Yakupov had a couple of decent seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, but has been back in the KHL since 2018. This season he has 26 points in 43 games for Omsk Avangard. Murray currently plays with the Colorado Avalanche and has four assists in 22 games there as a depth defenseman.

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We know Galchenyuk’s story, he was with the Maple Leafs last season. During the offseason, the rumor was he tried for the bigger bucks, couldn’t find them, and settled for a PTO with Arizona. There, he’s now toiling with the Coyotes and playing on an NHL league-minimum contract. This season, he’s played 25 games with two goals and five assists (for seven points).

Alex Galchenyuk Arizona Coyotes
Alex Galchenyuk, now with the Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Reinhart played 37 NHL games without a goal and two assists and now plates for Belfast in the British Elite Ice Hockey League. It’s probably a good life, but it isn’t in the NHL.

Rielly has played more NHL games than any other player from that draft class, although the Washington Capitals tough-guy forward Tom Wilson is only two games behind (614 games for Rielly and 612 for Wilson). Rielly also is the third-ranked scorer in that entire draft class (with 343 points), behind Filip Forsberg (423 points) of the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl (361 points).

Rielly Doesn’t Get the Respect Other Defensemen Get, But He’s Good

Rielly isn’t the offensive defenseman in the ilk of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman, the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, or the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox, but he’s playing better than any other season during his career. He’s even on pace for the best season of his career. 

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If anything, Rielly’s getting better as a 200-foot player. He’s already scored 38 points in 42 games at the All-Star break. In addition, he’s playing huge minutes with fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin out of the lineup with a concussion. 

As his Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted, Morgan’s “game is in a really good spot, both sides of the puck. We talked about how his defending has improved and he’s keeping the play in front of him — he’s closing space really well — and he’s doing that without taking away from his offence.” (from “Leaf Morgan Rielly isn’t an NHL all-star, but his teammates make a pretty strong case, Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 04/02/22).

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mitch Marner celebrates with teammate Morgan Rielly (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill)

In his article yesterday, McGran noted that some fans might wish Rielly were more physical, more offensive-minded, or even flashier. Perhaps the fact that he doesn’t stand out in any one aspect of the game is the cause for the fact that he’s generally been ignored for All-Star Game selection or even Norris Trophy voting. Rielly’s never been to a single NHL All-Star game nor has he received a single Norris Trophy vote since he came in fifth place in voting for the 2018-19 season.

Rielly Will Soon Become a Revered Maple Leafs’ Defenseman

Can Maple Leafs’ fans imagine Rielly on another NHL team? Can Oilers’ fans imagine Rielly on their team? At 27-years-old, Rielly’s already eighth in Maple Leafs’ franchise history in games played for defensemen with 614. The great Allan Stanley is just ahead of him with 633 games. Rielly has also totaled 343 career points, which ranks fifth. The great Ian Turnbull is just above him in fourth with 414 points.

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Maple Leafs’ teammate Jason Spezza, who’s seen his share of great defensemen, notes that Rielly is a “consummate pro. He came into this year … with the pressure of trying to make the Olympic team, the pressure of not having a contract beyond this year. And you wouldn’t have known that. He came in and was workmanlike.”

McGran made a key point in his article when he noted that “When all is said and done, Rielly may be as revered as Borje Salming or Tim Horton. He’ll get the chance with an eight-year, $60-million contract extension that kicks in next season.”

Borge Salming, defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Swedish-born professional hockey player Borge Salming, defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on the ice during a game, 1980s. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Given all that, even if Rielly doesn’t get the respect he might deserve, can any thoughtful Maple Leafs’ fan even imagine this – or any other – season’s team without Rielly on it? In addition, he’s one of the true class acts on any NHL team anywhere.