What do the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs all have in common? If you guessed a vacant captaincy, you were right on the money.
The Maple Leafs haven’t had a captain since they traded defenseman Dion Phaneuf to the division-rival Ottawa Senators this past February.
The organization is in no rush to name the next player to wear the captaincy. With the rebuild fully underway, management and the coaching staff wants to take their time and evaluate exactly what they have in terms of leadership. It’s an important decision, as the next captain will be tasked with leading the Maple Leafs to success in the near future.
The Maple Leafs have more in common with the Oilers, Hurricanes, Jets and Panthers than they do with the Blues or Predators. The latter two teams have a more established core of players, and both are perennial playoff contenders.
The others are in the same boat as the Leafs. Lots of young talent and the looming decision of which player to name as the next face of the franchise. The Oilers will most likely make Connor McDavid their next captain. Florida has stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad waiting. The Jets and Hurricanes possess a glut of talented players, any of who could be the next captain.
That brings us to the Maple Leafs. Who on the current squad would make a good choice as the future captain? Let’s take a closer look at a couple of candidates.
Will Leafs name a captain? "Lou, myself, Mike Babcock, will talk about it a bit more when we get a little closer to camp," says Shanahan.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) August 16, 2016
The temptation is certainly there to name the newly minted first overall pick the next captain of the Maple Leafs. Doing so right off the back however, would be a huge mistake. It’s enough pressure on a young player, even a first overall pick, to make his NHL team and play with and against some of the best players in the world.
Even in Brazil you can't stop talking hockey. Ran into Switzerlands best hockey writer. He raves about Auston Matthews, as player and person
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) August 6, 2016
I think Matthews has a viable chance about being named the next captain, but the decision would be coming a few years down the road. The Maple Leafs will want to evaluate how he translates his game to the NHL level, as well as how he carries himself on and off the ice. The potential is certainly there.
However, there is a candidate who might have a slightly better claim.
Morgan Rielly was drafted fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He was considered a bit of a risky pick at the time, not due to his skill or attitude, but because he was coming off an ACL tear in his right knee that saw him only suit up for 18 games. A little side note, he also put up 18 points in the those games.
Rielly has been the centrepiece of a young Maple Leafs team for the last few years. He’s being groomed as a top defenseman for the Maple Leafs, and for good reason. He’s steadily improved every season he’s been in the NHL and flourished last year under Mike Babcock.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 16, 2015
He carries the puck with supreme confidence, knows how to contribute on both sides of the ice and is extremely reliable. He’s also getting used to shutting down an opponent’s top players, which is no easy feat.
The former Moose Jaw Warrior certainly possesses the qualities needed to be the next captain. It will be up to the team of Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and the aforementioned Babcock to evaluate if Rielly is indeed the best choice. All three of those men have coached and played with some great captains through their tenures in the NHL.
Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom are two names that immediately spring to mind. Who knows? Rielly may join those players one day in the future. The sky is the limit for the talented defenseman, especially if he keeps working hard and improving his game.