Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly emerging, Jake Gardiner struggling

Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Morgan Rielly has taken a step forward in his game for the Toronto Maple Leafs so far this season while Jake Gardiner has been too unnoticeable.

While a lot of attention has been on the impact Auston Matthews, and John Tavares have had four games into the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Morgan Rielly’s name isn’t too far behind.

After a four-point night against the Dallas Stars, the 24-year-old now has two goals, eights assists and 10 points. Coming off a career-high season where he scored 52 points in 76 games, Rielly has benefited from being on the top power-play unit with half of his points coming with the man advantage so far.

For Jake Gardiner, this is an important season for him since it’s a contract year for him and while it’s early on, he hasn’t been nearly as impactful. A part of that probably has to do with him not being on the top power-play line and being deployed more in the defensive zone with Nikita Zaitsev.

His play at 5-on-5 hasn’t been to the level that we’ve been used to from Gardiner as he hasn’t registered a shot on goal as of yet while Rielly has 14. At the same time, Gardiner continues to be deployed more than Rielly and a part of that could be connected to who their defensive partners are.

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While Ron Hainsey is known as “the trusty veteran” for Mike Babcock, Nikita Zaitsev is the workhorse of the Leafs blueline which means that when he’s being sent over the boards, Gardiner isn’t too far behind unless it’s the penalty kill.

So why is Gardiner not having the same impact as Rielly is so far this season? It seems like teams are realizing how to play against him by especially in the defensive zone because he prefers to use breakout passes or his skating ability to exit the zone.

Now teams are closing in on him which makes it tougher to make those plays that he’s been known for. In Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, this was an issue which he was exploited for.

Gardiner should be able to turn things around but luckily for him, Rielly’s emergence hasn’t put a spotlight on him and he hasn’t had a performance that has cost the team a game singlehandedly which is what he’s been criticized for his entire time in Toronto.

Next. Partner Kapanen with Auston Matthews regularly. dark

What do you make of the way Rielly and Gardiner’have played so far this season. Can Rielly keep it up and can Gardiner turn things around? Let us know in the comments below.