Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 Season Review: Morgan Rielly

Mar 18, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) warms up before playing against the Chicago Blackhawks at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) warms up before playing against the Chicago Blackhawks at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Last offseason, Morgan Rielly signed a six-year extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in the first year of his new contract was a valuable player for the Leafs but is there room for him to grow?

Over the next few weeks we will be looking back at the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 season and reviewing how each player performed this year. Our season in review will start with the defence, move to the goalies and finish with the forwards. Next up in our season review is defenceman Morgan Rielly.

The best way to describe Rielly’s 2016-17 season is that he did take a step forward but it feels like he is just scratching the surface.  The 23-year old defenceman played a lot of hockey this past year starting with; 10 games at the IIHF World Championship last year, three games for Team North America, 76 regular season games with the Leafs and another six in the playoffs.

More from Tip of the Tower

The biggest debate about Rielly the past few seasons is whether he is capable of being a number one defenceman. He signed a six-year $30 million extension with expectations for Rielly to continue to produce as a top pairing defenceman.

He missed six games after suffering an ankle injury and it looked like that injury was bothering him even after he returned. Despite that, he still led the team in average time at even strength at 18:49 and fifth in average time on ice shorthanded at 2:22. Where he did not see a lot of playing time was on the power play averaging 0:58 as opposed to Jake Gardiner who averaged 2:32.

Where Rielly’s game elevated was in the playoffs, he contributed more offensively as he tied Auston Matthews for the team in points with five. It was encouraging to see Rielly elevate his game in the playoffs considering the injuries the Leafs had to deal with early on in the series to both Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak.

Season statistics

standard NHL career statistics
ScoringGoalsAssistsShotsIce Time

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2017.

3 things to know about Rielly’s 2016-17 season

  1. Many people will look at Rielly’s plus-minus rating and equate that to him having a bad season. As others have learned, the plus-minus stat does not accurately measure how a player plays defensively. Tyler Dellow explained in his article for the Athletic why Rielly’s numbers do not accurately portray the impact that he has on the ice.

"When Rielly is on the bench, the Leafs have a .936 save percentage at 5-on-5.  When he’s on the ice, they have an .898 save percentage at 5-on-5.  That .038 difference is a massive difference, one of the biggest for any defenceman in the last ten years.So Rielly’s had a bad plus-minus for three distinct reasons in his four NHL seasons.  In his first two years, the Leafs rarely had the puck.  But they were better when he was on the ice.  Hard to pin the bad plus-minus on him there."

2. Where Rielly showed his value to the Leafs is his ability to play against the best opposing forwards. Granted in the playoffs, Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev played more against the top line of the Washington Capitals but during the regular season, most of those match ups went to Rielly.

The Leafs Nation looked at the difference in competition between Rielly and Gardiner and Rielly was playing the most against players like; Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyler Seguin, Henrik Zetterberg, Aleksander Barkov, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, and Steven Stamkos. Those are tough assignments especially considering that he did not have a stable defensive partner all season long and he was a positive possession player for the Leafs this season.

3. In Game 2 against the Capitals, Rielly played 39:56 which is impressive considering the Leafs would go on to win the game. The more impressive part was that he would come back in Game 3 and played 24:31 adding two assists. In the playoffs Rielly was seeing more time on the power play and was awarded with a team high three points with the man advantage.

2017-18 Season outlook

Rielly could benefit the most from the Leafs offseason plans because the team will likely bring in a new defensive partner for him to play with on a more consistent basis. Who that will be? No one will know for sure as the Leafs are probably sorting through different avenues to acquire a defenceman. With the right-handed market also being very thin, Rielly could also be asked to play on his off side which he has done in the past.

Another thing that Rielly could work on this summer is his shot. He does not have a booming shot from the point so it would be tough to expect him to develop that in one summer. Instead, he should be working on getting himself in better shooting areas. A good example is the overtime winner that he scored against the Carolina Hurricane where he used his strong skating to create separation and got a quick shot off that can fool a goaltender.

Next: 2016-17 Season Review- Jake Gardiner

There will probably be big expectations for Rielly going into next season considering he should be fully recovered from his ankle injury. It was also important for him to have a strong year after signing his six-year contract extension last offseason.