PITTSBURGH — Brian Burke apparently didn’t shy away from the idea of selecting a Western Hockey League defenceman with the fifth overall pick in Friday’s first round, selecting defenceman Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
After what seemed like eons of second-guessing and innuendo, the first four picks of the NHL Draft went generally as expected. Edmonton took Nail Yakupov, Columbus Ryan Murray, Montreal Alex Galchenyuk and New York Griffin Reinhart.
This left several options open for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in the end, the pro scouting department and front office landed on Rielly, overlooking three defencemen on my board as well as skilled forwards Mikhail Grigorenko, Tuevo Teräväinen and even the defensively capable Radek Faksa.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Rielly, who quipped after his media availability that his name, spelled different than the traditional Irish name “Reilly” is actually correct “because I was always taught that it was ‘i before e except after c’.”
Brian Burke made no reservations about Rielly. “We had this player rated first overall,” he told reporters. “I wouldn’t be saying that if it wasn’t true just to build up the pick. He’s got a high hockey IQ, a high compete level, makes smart decisions.”
Burke claimed that he’d only be going up in the draft with the intention of drafting Rielly, but “the price was too steep” and entertained the notion of moving down, but the only players available were “retired kickers”.
He made a lot of character claims about Rielly, citing “good posture” and “confidence” in the interview. Rielly, who grew up in Vancouver but was both Maple Leafs as well as a Canucks fan, admitted that he wasn’t thrown any curveball questions by Burke, and was asked generally about his influences and his family.
“Kris Letang,” Rielly said about the NHLer he’d most compare his game to. “Two-way, powerplay quarterback.”
Rielly played in Moose Jaw, and after his first meeting with Leafs beat reporters, shared a moment with Brian Burke, who whispered something inaudible in his ear. Rielly said “oh, I love it” audibly to Burke, who gave a thumbs up gesture to the young defenceman.
Burke also said that it would be the best player overall, no question, in the draft for the remainder. “The depth chart is addressed in free agency,” he said.