The Toronto Maple Leafs were treading water when Morgan Rielly was injured as it left a reminder of how important he is to the success of the team.
Some have criticized Rielly for his play this season after the 26-year-old established a career-high 20 goals and 72 points last year. Of course, its easy to forget that the Vancouver native has seen a diminished offensive role along with more defensive zone starts.
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Looking past the offensive numbers, which have taken a noticeable dip, there is more to Rielly’s game that gets overlooked. Thanks to Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire, he explains why Rielly continues to be the backbone of the Leafs.
While Rielly isn’t the most physical player, his effectiveness as a defender comes from his ability to lead the Leafs breakout. Considering most of the Leafs forwards like to play up high in the zone, the defenceman is mostly relied upon to initiate the breakout, something Rielly excels at.
Berkshire’s data shows how Rielly has been capable of not only leading the Leafs transition game but doing it while maintaining a low turnover rate. He is also one of the top defencemen in the league in using the outlet pass to exit the zone instead of using the stretch pass or dumping it out.
This seems like a big change in the defenceman’s game lately as Sheldon Keefe has moved away from the stretch pass and using shorter outlet passes along with the team’s ability to push the puck out with their skating.
Where Rielly can probably stand to work on his game more is defending one-on-one and in front of the net which is where he has struggled at times. This is probably why he is at his best when he uses his hockey IQ to determine the right time to jump into the play.
Going 11-9-3 with Rielly out of the lineup should say all that needs to be said about how important he is t the team’s success.
How important do you think Rielly is to the Leafs’ success? Does he get undervalued at all? Let us know in the comments below.