Â Friday Night I had the opportunity to take in the Edmonton Oil Kings game.Â Their opponent just so happened to be the Moose Jaw Warriors and one Morgan Rielly. The Oil Kings proceeded to pummel the Warriors 5-1 and by the end of the second the shot total was 30-10 for the Oil Kings. As you can imagine, this doesnâ€™t lead to a glowing review of Rielly or the Warriors in general.
My notes on Rielly below reflect what I witnessed in what clearly a lackluster night for him. They may seem harsh, but it doesnâ€™t change the fact that I believe that Rielly will soon be the top unit powerplay quarterback for the Leafs. The viewing did not change my prior concerns that he may not be a defensively sound player.
Also, a while back DefenseWinsChampionships penned this thoughtful piece on his viewing of Morgan Rielly. Iâ€™d encourage everyone to use that as a basis for comparison and I think it accurately captures a typical game Rielly puts up in the WHL.
Also worth noting is that Morgan Rielly entered the night with 14 points in 10 games, one point behind Ryan Pulock of the Brandon Wheat Kings for top scoring defensemen in the league (please note that Myles Bell now plays forward and is incorrectly listed as a defenseman on the WHL website).
First things first, Morgan Rielly is as fast as advertised. The Oil Kings are not a slow team, but Rielly has the ability to win any race (that he wants to). Rielly primarily uses his speed to jump into the rush – often ahead of most of the forwards – but had a tendency to stick to the outside rather than attempt to cut towards the middle.
Rielly also uses his speed well when someone gets past him breaking out of the offensive zone and wonâ€™t allow for breakaways. Unfortunately, Rielly is less interested in using his speed when any of his teammates get beaten and is less committed to the back check.
With great speed comes less than great endurance. After an attempted rush it often led to a much slower Rielly for the rest of the shift, heâ€™s either going to need to find a way to get off the ice sooner after these plays or continue to work on his stamina.
Did I mention he was fast? Heâ€™s really effinâ€™ fast.
The other thing that is important to note with Rielly is the accuracy of passing and his quick release. Throughout the game Rielly was making smart, safe outlet passes which shows some promise that someday Leafs fans might watch a team that can move the puck out of their zone without having to go to centre ice for a faceoff. Combine his passing ability with his comfort in skating with the puck and you get his best defensive value. Rather than a quick chuck out of the zone, Rielly develops safe plays to clear the zone.
Speaking of his defensive abilities, they are generally lacking. He wins races for the puck in the corners and doesnâ€™t mind taking a hit when he gets there, but thereâ€™s nothing worse than watching a defenseman flamingo rather than blocking a shot. Rather than playing the man in front of the net heâ€™ll play the perimeter in the event of the rebound, and I donâ€™t think I saw him attack the puck carrier all night, instead resorting to poor positional zone coverage.
Rielly was on the ice for an even strength Oil Kings goal and two of the Oil Kings powerplay goals. In Riellyâ€™s defense, he should not be on the penalty kill, it just speaks to quality of the Warriors lineup that they have to rely on him on their second PK unit.
One of the other things I noticed about Rielly is something that is pretty common with a lot of defensemen, especially young ones; Rielly cannot play his opposite side. Rielly on the right side of the ice leads to failure in holding the puck in the offensive zone.
Heâ€™s quiet on the ice and quiet on the bench. Not that being loud on the bench is overly important, but the fact that he doesnâ€™t seem to communicate too much with his defensive partner when heâ€™s a player prone to jump out of position or quarterback powerplays is worth noting. It doesnâ€™t seem to hold him back, but Iâ€™ll throw it all out there.
When it comes to Riellyâ€™s shot, there is definite room for improvement (again: this is just based on one game). There appears to be almost a Jason Blake-like hatred of logos, as almost every shot was a wrist shot into the goaltenders chest. He did launch one knuckle puck on a fanned slapshot, but expect Rielly to primarily be passing on powerplays or in any offensive situation for that matter.
In the third, Rielly demonstrated his powerplay vision a bit more clearly despite the lack of results. The first couple of periods seemed to be disorganized and he was making some poor decisions and throwing the puck into heavy coverage. This falls more on Riellys teammates, who donâ€™t seem to grasp the concept that you donâ€™t want to spend your powerplay huddled against the boards all within ten feet of each other.
Also, based on his struggle to win battles for the puck and the fact he doesnâ€™t have an overly strong shot, Iâ€™d hope Morgan Rielly gets a little stronger before he makes the jump to the NHL.
This was not the greatest showing of Morgan Rielly, but that doesnâ€™t change my belief that he will be a Phil Housley clone at the NHL level. I hope to be more upbeat in my notes when Moose Jaw is back in Edmonton on November 24th . Certainly the ideal situation in my mind is that Rielly is traded from the mediocre Warriors to a team that has the potential to contend in the WHL, and the fact that Moose Jaw is now slowing after a stronger than expected start may have Rielly in a new postal code following the World Juniors.