November 13 2012 10:49AM
With the Subway Super Series turning its attention to the Western Hockey League, Leafs fans get to see two games of Morgan Rielly, their first round pick in 2012 (5th overall) in a game amongst his peers.
Before Leafs Nation checks out their skilled blueliner in action amongst the best of the West versus the Russians, Cam had found this Rielly video in a game against the Calgary Hitmen and we are going to break down what he brings in a regular season uniform.
First the video (after the jump, courtesy backrowcornerseat)
Watching that brought up some really interesting aspects of Rielly that we need pictures.
Two things to take notice, one a positive – and a negative even though it raises other questions. The positive, just look at the attention he garners in this shot. All four Hitmen are focused on him as he skates through the neutral zone. Notice how he pushes back three players right into the corner where he recognizes he has no play to the net, before abandoning the rush with little space and turning back up the boards, where all three turn with him.
An impressive rush but Rielly skated past all three forwards, who should be demonized for their part since they were either not moving their feet or coasting in the neutral zone and following up the play where they just get to the net and slot and stop skating waiting for the play to get to them.
The rush looks impressive, but on another level, Rielly completely isolated himself as the lone man on the play with his teammates just standing around waiting for something to happen, be it a play to the goal, or a turnover. It’s indicative of the lack of scoring on the Warriors.
Something else to watch for in these images is just how he forces opposing defenders to check him when they’re off balance, and in strange angles. He fearlessly jumps into seams both rushing with the puck and without looking for space when he jumps into the rush.
In the following highlight, Rielly once again is skating it out of the zone while a lone forward (who is out of frame) awaits for the puck, or the play to get to him at the opposition blueline. There’s no pass to head man the puck, it’s all about a buildup of speed, jumping through the seam and trying forcing the play down the middle. The play breaks down, but not before he’s drawing attention once again from three Hitmen players as he’s falling over.
Number four blasts through the seam on an angle, furthering forcing the two checkers to try to get to him at a strange angle.
The next highlight has Rielly at the top of zone with all five Hitmen on the right side of the ice. There’s lots of space and the play is likely best to the open defenseman on the other side, but that’s not what happens.
Rielly dances past the high forward and within a heartbeat, four Hitmen are all within a stick length of him as he’s carrying the puck.
A closer look has a great example of how he’s being checked by an off balance forward with a bunch of dark jerseys surrounding him.
This ability to attract defenders and open up space will be a useful tool in the NHL. I’m not as confident in the high risk plays in dangerous areas of the ice and those may need to be slowly weaned out of him. This will work in the Dub, but space is a premium and smaller players get knocked on their asses if they try to get too cute, especially at the top of the zone.
Still, one has to admire the chutzpah to pull off these high risk moves with grace and poise. It’s a tantalizing quality in a young defenseman.
In the next highlight, he’s racing up through the zone, eluding one check and getting into the neutral zone with a lot of space to maneuver and both defensemen backing up fairly quickly. Unlike in both examples above, we saw him rush through traffic, getting into seams with speed bursts and quickness. It seemed like he was content weaving through traffic, which makes his choice of play here strange.
Here, with so much space, he passes the puck. It turns into a nothing play, but it was an uncharacteristic play considering the propensity to rush it himself.
The last highlight is nice amalgamation of the ability to draw defenders to him, brave to drive into dangerous areas considering his size, and fairly good puck protection skills in a highly dangerous area.
He draws more attention, this time right in the slot area before somewhat overhandling the puck, but he makes it work, curling it out to the top of the zone by the blueline.
As he bounces off his check, he attracts two players to the top of the zone by the blueline before passing it off to his defensive partner with the benefit of space to walk in for a shot on goal.
It’s like Rielly seems to operate best in chaos.
Enjoy the Super Series. Watch for some of these traits as you enjoy some high caliber hockey.