I have a hard time containing my enthusiasm when I talk about Morgan Rielly. Just 20 years old and coming off a great rookie season, Rielly has all of the tools required to become one of most talented blueliners in the NHL. It just probably won’t happen this year.
Rielly had a great year, cracking the Leafs’ roster and sticking in the NHL despite many, myself included, thinking he’d be on his way back to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. There was no reason to rush Rielly into the NHL, but it turned out to have nothing to do with that – Rielly had a good camp, and he earned his spot.
Suiting up for 73 games, Rielly scored two goals and 27 points while averaging 17:38 in ice time per game (fifth amongst Leaf defenders). Say what you will about Randy Carlyle’s deployment, but Rielly was handled properly for a first-year player, and was effective in the time he was given.
Best of all, Rielly was consistently pushing the play in the right direction, despite the major disadvantage of being a Toronto Maple Leaf.
It might be Rielly’s sophomore year, but I don’t anticipate a slump. Rielly should build on last year, but it’s unfair to expect him to significantly increase his point production. If Rielly even matches his 27 points from last year, that’s still a success. A 30-35 point campaign would be fantastic. Only 50 defencemen in the NHL managed to crack 30 points last season. It isn’t an insignificant number.
To do that though, Rielly will have to overcome a numbers game on the blueline. With Dion Phaneuf locked in on the top pairing, Cody Franson returning for another season, Jake Gardiner looking to break out in a big way, and the additions of veterans Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak, Rielly will be in tough to secure a top four role. It might be another season or two before Rielly becomes the impact blueliner that many expect him to be.
There’s no denying Rielly’s skill. That being said, he’s not a high-end fantasy option just yet. Rielly will certainly get powerplay time, but he’ll have to share it with Phaneuf, Franson and Gardiner. The good news is that Rielly should be available in the later rounds of your draft, and he’d make for a solid 4th or spare defender in a 10 or 12 team league.