Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly fulfilling potential in big way

Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates after the puck. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates after the puck. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to make their case as contenders this season and a big reason is the play of Morgan Rielly.

There have been many factors which have contributed to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ climb to the top of the NHL standings and one that’s not going unnoticed is the emergence of Morgan Rielly.

The 24-year-old is currently seventh in the league in scoring and first among defencemen with nine goals, 16 assists and 25 points in 20 games. Only Mitch Marner has more points among Leafs players with 26.

Former Leafs GM Brian Burke has said on multiple occasions that he had Rielly ranked No.1 overall going into the 2012 draft and while it has taken time, it appears he wasn’t far off with his evaluation. Looking back at the draft class Rielly sits third in points trailing Filip Forsberg and Alex Galchenyuk and this was a group that has some great talent.

Rielly was selected fifth overall with Ryan Murray and Griffin Reinhart drafted ahead of him while defenceman like; Hampus Lindholm, Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, Jaccob Slavin Colton Parayko, and Shayne Gostisbhere were selected after him. It is an impressive group but only a select few have reached Rielly’s level and vice versa.

Back in August, I wrote about how Rielly was being overlooked when the NHL Network didn’t include him in their top 20 defencemen going into the season. Granted the players ranked ahead of him had a good body of work in front of them but they were to redo the list now, Rielly would probably find his way on there.

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Just to give you an idea of how valuable Rielly has been this season for the Leafs, in the 14 games they’ve won he has seven goals, 11 assists for 19 points and is a plus-17. While plus/minus isn’t the stat that should determine a defenceman’s value (sorry Don Cherry) but Rielly’s impact has come when the Leafs need it the most.

His offensive instincts have always been there but he never had the opportunity to showcase it especially when Mike Babcock first joined the team. He wanted Rielly to focus on the defensive part of his game by not playing him in the powerplay and starting more in the defensive zone.

Sometimes a player needs to take time to figure out his game and according to Rielly, that’s what has happened so far this season.

"“I think it just happens over time,” Rielly tells Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. “You go to the world championships and you play big minutes, that’s a big step. The World Cup, you play well, you’re in a leadership role, that’s a big step. You come here, you play for a good team, a good coach and a good group, and you just get comfortable. You just become kind of in a good situation and you feel like you’re able to thrive."

This was especially important early in Rielly’s career with Randy Carlyle as the coach you could tell the young defenceman wasn’t comfortable and didn’t have the support and guidance around him.

Babcock and the Leafs front office saw Rielly and Nazem Kadri as two important pieces of the core going forward and needed to get them back on track and safe to say it has worked out big time.

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What do you make of Rielly’s progress this season? Can he keep this up and be in consideration for the Norris? Let us know in the comments below.