Leading up to Friday night’s entry draft most Leafs fans – myself included – were hoping that the dominoes fell the right way leaving the blue and white with one of Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg or Mikhail Grigorenko. After watching Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Galchenyuk and Griffin Reinhart stand atop the podium wearing the sweaters of their new teams, the consensus was that it was time for Burke to bolster his forward corps by selecting either the big Sweedish winger (Forsberg) or the highly skilled Russian pivot (Grigorenko) with the 5th overall pick. Instead, the fiery Irishman let the air out of the balloon by calling the name of Moose Jaw’s smooth skating defenseman Morgan Rielly. Considering the fact that the Leafs had Luke Schenn (22), Jake Gardiner (21) and Cody Franson (23) already in the NHL, as well as Korbinian Holzer (24) and Jesse Blacker (21) with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, not to mention Stuart Percy (20) playing with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL it just didn’t make sense for the blue and white to add another blueline prospect to their ranks. Following the initial hysterics and confusion surrounding the selection of Rielly, the scouting reports and information about the new Leafs top prospect began to filter out and people began climbing off of ledges and warmed up to Rielly.
Below is Rielly’s profile from The Hockey News’ Draft Preview:
Part of the disastrous injury cohort, Rielly was still trying a valiant comeback as Moose Jaw progressed through the WHL playoffs. A torn ACL was Rielly’s obstacle, but fortunately his fans had seen enough in the games he did suit up for. “This guy’s dynamic,” said one scout. “Sort of like Duncan Keith – good skater. It’s a shame he got hurt. A lot of scouts don’t watch the underage year.”
Rielly is calm under pressure and an excellent passer and skater. As a member of Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame Hounds, he helped that vaunted program to a provincial midget title and the national Telus Cup in 2010.
Part of the Big Five group of WHL blueliners, Rielly is best known for what another scout called “fearless playmaking.” Thankfully, he hit all the elite events before his injury, with appearances at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and NHL Research and Development Camp during the summer.
While it was difficult to see the Leafs pass up top ranked forward prospects in Forsberg and Grigorenko, something must be said to the fact that the next five teams up at the podium also chose to pass them up. Forsberg eventually went to the Washington Capitals at 11th overall while Grigorenko went immediately after to the Buffalo Sabres. What the Leafs have acquired in Rielly though is game breaking skill and home run potential. According to a variety of sources Rielly has the most upside of any defenseman in the draft, and has been called the best blueline prospect since Drew Doughty.
What stands out to me with Rielly is his potential to be a top level player in the NHL. When you are faced with the unfortunate opportunity to draft 5th overall teams should really be looking to get a star with that high pick. The reason that Forsberg slipped so low – was ranked 4th by ISS – was the fact that scouts didn’t see high end potential in him. This is what The Hockey News had to say about Forsberg:
In a rare departure, scouts like what they see from him in the defensive zone, but want more at the other end. “He’s probably the safest pick as a forward you can find,” said another scout, “but based on the summer tournament, I thought there’d be more dazzle.”
The Leafs chose to avoid the safe pick and instead chose a high reward prospect in Rielly. Many people scoffed following the draft when Burke claimed that they had Rielly ranked first in the draft, and yet had he not been injured this season he very easily could have challenged for that #1 position. Keep in mind that Rielly is thought to have been the best skater in the draft, best passer and posses some of the best hockey sense of any of the 18 year old prospects. The newest Leaf was also one of the strongest performers at the scouting combine earlier this month.
What is also important to note, is that these prospects are only 18. Can one fully gauge what type of player these – for lack of a better word – boys will turn out to be? I for one am overjoyed with the thought that the Leafs took one of the players that possessed some of the rawest, yet high end abilities available this year. Game breaking speed and offensive instincts? Comparisons to Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty? Well done Brian, well done.
Check out some other great write-ups on the Leafs’ draft