Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Storylines to Follow This Seasons

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Nov 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) turns with the puck against the Vancouver Canucks at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Canucks 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Emergence of Morgan Rielly

It is clear that Babcock wants Rielly to become the best defenceman on the Leafs now and going into the future. We all know what Rielly is capable offensively but what makes defencemen like Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter, PK Subban and Shea Weber among the best in the league is their ability to be reliable at both ends, especially at key moments in the game.

Pairing a player like Matt Hunwick with Rielly has helped because he is a good role model and a hard worker. Babcock has made it a point not to put Rielly on the powerplay because he knows how good of an all round player that Rielly can be.

"“We are trying to get him to learn how to play without the puck and focus on that totally. I never knew (it would be a priority) until I watched him without the puck and then that became an area that I thought if we want him to be the best player he can be, we have to get him (better) without the puck first”"

Oct 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman

Morgan Rielly

(44) celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes at Air Canada Centre. The Coyotes beat the Maple Leafs 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt that Rielly at the young age of 21 has the potential to be among the best defenders in the league. Babcock has coached those defenders with Team Canada so he knows where Rielly has to get better.

The best part is that Babcock is throwing him out against the top lines and on the penalty kill showing his confidence in Rielly to be in important situations.

Rielly sits second behind Dion Phaneuf in defensive zone starting percentage and second last in offensive zone starting percentage. Sure his fenwick and corsi percentages are below 50% at 48%, but considering he is not in the offensive zone most of the time it is not terrible.

In the past him and Jake Gardiner were put in more offensive situations because Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek were hoping for them to be more of a factor offensively. Now that Babcock is here, he clearly wants to maximize Rielly at both ends of the ice, which is something Leafs’ fans should be pleased with.

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