September 13 2013 10:37AM
Hometown: Vancouver, BC
Size: 6’1", 205 lbs
2013 Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL), Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round, 5th Overall in 2012
Morgan Rielly is The Leafs Nation’s 2013 Top Prospect. Well, obviously.
It’s really no surprise that Rielly, Toronto’s 5th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, took top billing – in fact, he received first place votes across the board. Rielly is the type of high-octane offensive defenceman that every NHL team covets, in the mould of a Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson or Keith Yandle.
Yes, I think he could be that good.
But no, I don’t think he should be in the NHL this year.
As you’re probably already aware, Rielly is in the unusual position in that he’s too good for junior hockey, perhaps not ready for the NHL, and too young to play in the AHL. It’s a Toronto-or-Moose Jaw situation, in that Rielly will either be “rushed” to the big leagues, or will be “wasting his time” in the Dub.
There’s valid concern in rushing Rielly to the NHL. Some would say it’s what the Leafs did with another 5th overall pick in Luke Schenn, who had a few up-and-down years before seemingly finding his footing in Philadelphia this past season. However, the idea that Rielly wouldn’t benefit from another season at the junior level doesn’t really compute. In an interview with the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran, Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Mike Stothers put it best:
“If he comes back, I don’t think it’s a step back for Morgan,” said Stothers. “I just think it’s another year for him to learn and develop. He lost a year of development with his injury (in 2011). I don’t look at it as a step back and there would be nothing left for him to prove here.”
The lost year of development comment really sticks out. In his draft year, Morgan Rielly only appeared in a total of 23 games -18 with Moose Jaw and another five with Canada’s U18 Ivan Hlinka team – due to a rather serious knee injury.
On top of that, there’s good reason to believe that a return to Junior would be a lot of ‘meaningful’ hockey games for Rielly. Playing for a truly below average Warriors team in 2012-2013, Rielly was one of Moose Jaw’s few bright spots in a losing season, scoring 12 goals and 54 points in 60 games.
If Moose Jaw shows great improvement, Rielly will play a big part in their playoff run. If they don’t, it’d be very hard to imagine Rielly isn’t moved to a contender, and be a big part of that team’s playoff run.
Beyond that, Rielly is practically a shoe-in to make Canada’s U20 squad that will travel to Malmo, Sweden for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championships. It would be his second trip to the tournament; one that any hockey person in the know would tell you is a valuable learning experience.
It’s good to hear that the Leafs are approaching the Rielly situation with patience, as head coach Randy Carlyle told reporters on Wednesday…
"To have [Rielly] in our lineup we don't envision him playing sparing minutes. His minutes have to be somewhere in excess of 12 to 15 minutes. Does he have to play every game? No, I don't think he has to play every game. But I think what he has to do is he has to show growth."
By all means, if Rielly comes into training camp, surpasses expectations, earns a top four role, and forces GM Dave Nonis to make room for him, then there’s little harm in keeping him.
It’s just far more likely that Rielly plays well for nine regular season games, then returns to the WHL. Simply, there’s just too many deserving bodies ahead of him – are you going to nonchalantly swap a Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, or Jake Gardiner out of the top four? Probably not.
That being said, if the Leafs cannot come to terms with (or trade) restricted free agent Cody Franson, that’s a whole other story. That’s the only situation I can see in which Morgan Rielly’s chances to make the Leafs roster significantly improves.
In previous prospect profiles, The Leafs Nation writers have sometimes stated that one prospect is rated ahead of another because they’re closer to making an impact in the NHL. In my mind, Rielly isn’t there quite yet. However, Rielly takes top billing in our prospect countdown simply because he is so far ahead of every other Leafs prospect in terms of skill and game-breaking potential.
There’s some real star power here. We’ll likely see it in two to three years.
EDITOR'S NOTE FROM STEVE:
Morgan Rielly can jump 60 inches, which is 5 feet, which is insane.
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