Born: March 9th 1994
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Drafted: 5th overall (Toronto Maple Leafs)
NHL comparison: Erik Karlsson, Scott Niedermayer
The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked many onlookers by drafting the Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Morgan Rielly but he was the only player the Leafs ever wanted.
While some may be disappointed the Leafs didn’t draft an offensive player like Filip Forsberg or Mikhail Grigorenko, Riley may have one of the highest upsides of a defenceman in the 2012 draft and has been compared to Erik Karlsson and Scott Niedermayer.
Rielly missed most of the 2011-2012 season after suffering a torn ACL. Before his injury Rielly was playing at a point a game pace and continued that pace when he came back from injury to play for the Warriors in the playoffs.
“We had this player rated first overall,” Brian Burke said. “I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true, just to build up a pick. This is a guy that if we had with the first pick, we would have taken him, our scouts are ecstatic.”
Rielly and the Toronto Maple Leafs were satisfied with how he managed to recover from his torn ACL. “It was a pretty long wait from when I hurt my knee to now,” said Rielly. “A long road with a lot of hard work. I had sometimes when I would question whether the draft was going to happen for me and I didn’t know really what to expect. I had to keep training hard and getting healthier. I guess it paid off,” Riley said.
“This kid never viewed the injury as a setback. He viewed it as a challenge. And he met that challenge,” Burke said.
Riley may have a hard time breaking the Leafs lineup when he is ready with a defense core that has Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, and Luke Schenn in the NHL and prospects Jessie Blacker and Korbinian Holzer but the collective defence was liable for 264 goals against last season, good for second last in the league. The Leafs defense may need a shakeup and Rielly won’t be NHL ready for another few years.
“I’d rather have the problem of too many defencemen,” he said. “Until these kids are ready to play, there’s no reason to address that.
“His speed is good with a dangerous top gear and Rielly can be especially impressive from a standstill with his acceleration, four-way mobility, and his elusive quickness. He can also really make things happen on a power play with his footwork and ability to maneuver in tight spaces. Rielly is a very skilled offensive player with plus puck skills and passing ability who can dangle an opponent out of his skates or thread a bullet pass through a tight lane. He creates a lot with his individual ability but much more so with his hockey sense and ability to control the flow. Rielly is very aware of his time and space and rarely seems pressured when making plays.” – Corey Pronman http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1308
“There’s no doubt that when it’s all said and done and some team drafts Rielly inside the top 10-12 in the NHL draft, they are going to get a hell of a player. He might not have the poise of Ryan Murray or the explosiveness of Mathew Dumba, but he’s a great offensive defenceman who was well on his way to proving himself in his own zone.” – Cody Nickolet http://whl-from-above.blogspot.ca/2012/02/officially-on-radar-morgan-rielly.html
“I’ve seen Rielly do things on the ice that nobody else was doing. I saw him make those little passes to guys who weren’t expecting the puck to get there. He’s the type of player who can lead the rush and he’ll be the first guy back. I think his creativity makes him one of the top players in the league. He’s like a chess player; he’s thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don’t see.”- Blair MacDonald, NHL Central Scouting http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=80392