When the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Morgan Rielly fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Entry draft, they were taking on a huge risk. Rielly was primed to have a big year for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, but a knee injury sustained early in the season ended up keeping him out for the entire year. He returned for the playoffs and despite only playing a handful of games, the Maple Leafs took him with their first rounder that year.
In the mind’s of the Leafs, the risk was well worth the reward. If Rielly was able to come back effectively from his knee injury, he could have the potential to one day develop into one of the leagues preeminent offensive defensemen.
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A few years down the road, I believe we can safely say that the Rielly pick has panned out incredibly well for the organization. There’s a lot to like about the Vancouver, British Columbia natives game. He’s a dynamic and smooth skater who’s makes it look almost effortless every time he touches the ice.
He is able to use his speed and skating to hop into or lead a rush down the ice. His vision is excellent and he uses it to spot and set-up a waiting teammate. The former first rounder also has an accurate and hard shot which he put on full display this season for the Leafs. He scored a career best eight goals and added 21 assists for a grand total of 29 points. Not bad for a young sophomore defenseman.
Despite the Leafs dreadful second half of the season, Rielly thankfully remained a bright spot. Under the now fired Peter Horachek, Rielly saw his ice time and responsibilities rise. While he’s a dynamo on the offensive side of the pick, he could still use some help in developing his defensive game.
That means better controlling the gaps, immediately pressuring the forwards who enter the zone and being more tenacious and tough in the defensive zone. All of that can be taught with proper guidance on the part of the coaching staff and also the maturity of the player himself.
Rielly’s stock is trending upwards at an astounding pace. He is already looked to as one of the young leaders on the team and depending on what happens this summer, his leadership role might grow even larger. Brendan Shanahan has promised a summer of change for the team. Players such as Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel may be shipped out.
If those players were to leave, then Rielly and the young core of the Leafs would become the default leaders of the team. Truthfully, Rielly has displayed the poise, skill and maturity of a player much more experienced than he is. It’s still early into his NHL career but he appears to have the right mix to one day be the potential captain of the Maple Leafs.
The Buds selected the former Moose Jaw Warrior to be one of the cornerstones of their franchise. Rielly has so far shattered all expectations that were set in from of him. He continues to grow and become better with each passing year. As the Leafs begin their rebuild in earnest, Rielly will be heavily leaned upon to help lead the franchise into better days.