Being only the third Maple Leafs defenceman to score twenty goals in its 101-year existence is already a massive feat, but how Morgan Rielly was able to score those goals make his season appear even more historic.
Cementing his name among Al Iafrate and other Leafs defencemen like Borje Salming — who was never able to break the 20-goal barrier — at such a young age is just beyond belief.
As soon as he made the roster out of camp in 2013, he even forced Randy Carlyle to say positive things about the then 19-year-old defenceman. A pretty significant feat by itself.
His style of play already reflects that prototypical offensive defenceman archetype, but Rielly appears to go a step beyond and provide more of an overall asset. What springs to mind with some defencemen like John Carlson of the Capitals and Brent Burns of the Sharks is just a heavy shot from the point and a very solid power play quarterback.
What Rielly can do with the puck and how he can move it puts him a step above some of those talents. Especially when it comes to his shot.
Unlike the previous examples, Rielly has never had a really heavy shot, but a skillful wristshot that can be easily deflected or beat an unexpecting goaltender.
In one game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 3rd this season, Rielly demonstrated his skating ability as well as his shot placement with two goals — one at even-strength and one on the power play.
Connecting on that tight pass from Tavares as he rushes to the net is very typical Rielly. Even if we’re used to it at this point, this season by Rielly so far has been incredible to watch.
To go and break through at least three Penguins skaters and never really break stride to grab the pass from Tavares and then to put the puck in the back of the net almost immediately, is much more impressive than any slapshot from the blue line.
In the second goal that appears on the man advantage, Rielly creates the play himself and then pounces on a loose rebound.
One of the most underrated fun things in this sport is someone just going for a full spin around the offensive zone and the defending team just essentially standing there slack-jawed.
Rielly is able to start and finish the play while controlling the whole left side of the ice and making use of what space the Penguins penalty killers are giving him.
Shooting tight and in-close is what he has excelled in all season long. Getting into those high-danger areas and making use of them.
Making it much more clear — thanks to Sean Tierney the Charting God — Rielly’s shots have come from all over the ice this season and has not been restricted to some sort of positional play.
This could be based on personal ability or it could be Babcock letting the Norris-candidate take his skills all over the ice and spread the best part of his game. But one thing is for sure, Rielly is so damn good in the offensive zone.
Not only his shots, but the resulting goals from those shots are seen all over the ice. Mostly to the left side, but he is surely not depending on one singular play or one type of shot either. To have a defenceman not afraid to go deep into the offensive zone and pick up nine goals that just hug the inner edge of the faceoff circles is priceless.
His ability to cut in and get those chances are really unmatched by any other offensive defenceman this season.
Comparing his chart to shot-creation machine Brent Burns, it’s pretty obvious where Burns really tries to get his chances from.
The right side of the blue line is essentially where he lives, setting up camp there and really just trying to pepper the opposing goalie with as many low-danger chances as possible.
He definitely has more luck when it comes to actually skating somewhere else and shooting the puck, but Burns has just not scored enough goals to really warrant any explanation. It may be a coaching decision — San Jose has enough skilled forwards that Burns doesn’t really need to be mobile, but all of his chances are extremely concentrated.
In this rundown of potential Norris candidates, the other defenceman that has really been extraordinary this year in scoring goals is Mark Giordano. Second to Rielly with 16, Giordano has been able to move elsewhere on the ice and increase his tally, but not at the same rate as the Leafs defenceman.
The 35-year-old Flames blueliner definitely has a couple of weapons in his arsenal for scoring goals this season. A couple of goals have gone in front the point, but he generally either scores extremely close to the net, or just beyond the faceoff dot.
His shot generation has been concentrated to the left, just like Rielly, but his opposite side has far fewer chances.
One key difference in Rielly’s goalscoring ability this season is how many of his attempted shots actually hit the net.
Compared to Burns (68.8%) and Giordano (65.71%), Rielly’s shots hit the target 73.33% of the time. Meaning that he really takes his opportunities and has earned his goal total.
While Burns deals in volume, Rielly and Giordano take more quality shots — the former scoring more goals from more unique positions on the ice.
His season has been monumental, but his number of goals truly do a disservice of how much he has earned every single goal he has scored this season. Getting into those dangerous areas and being able to shoot the puck mid-stride, Rielly has (and will continue to be) immensely important to this team’s offensive ability.