At this point in time, it is probably fair to call Morgan Rielly the most hyped Leafs prospect since Wendel Clark. I don’t know whether or not that’s fair, but with great hype comes great expectations.
To this point, Rielly hasn’t done anything to really quash the excitement that is building for him. He’s scored electric goals, he’s played well for Canada in the past, and now he’s on the World Juniors team.
In essence, Rielly is following the path of many elite defensemen before him. With that in mind, I collected some stats on how players he’s been compared to have performed in this tournament. Hopefully, it will serve as some sort of barometer on what to expect from the young Leafs prospect.[table “70” not found /]
- Brian Leetch was named to the First All-Star Team in 1987.
- Brian Campbell was named a first team all-star for the tournament.
- Dion Phaneuf was a first team all-star both years, and named the outstanding defenseman of the tournament.
- Side note: Phaneuf’s World Juniors along with his first three NHL seasons of 49, 50 and 60 points respectively was absolutely ridiculous.
- Kris Letang was captain and a tournament all-star of the 2007 tournament.
- Drew Doughty was named a tournament all-star, and given the Directorate Award for Best D-man.
- Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of this, but some of you may remember Drew Doughty getting beat badly one-on-one by a Swedish player with under 10 seconds left in a 3-3 round robin game which resulted in Canada losing 4-3. Just goes to show you even the best have their weak moments.
- Erik Karlsson was a tournament all-star and named the tournament’s best D-man. He led his team in scoring and was tied with PK Subban for most points by a defenseman.
- Jake Gardiner was not named to or awarded anything. He did, however, win a gold medal.
If the first game was any indication, Morgan Rielly will be in tough to match these accomplishments. Yes, he notched an assist (which he doesn’t appear to have been officially credited for), but he was seeing second unit power play time, no PK time and was on Canada’s third pairing. How you go from being on the top pairing in exhibition games to that, I do not know, but it is what it is.
The saving grace is they’ve only played the first game of the tournament thus far, and by all accounts Rielly appears to be superior to many of the D-men that played ahead of him. But, unless he receives the necessary ice time under Steve Spott moving forward, he isn’t going to flourish.
Furthermore, this is a tournament dominated by 19 year olds, and Morgan is only 18. While one year may not seem like a big deal, in this tournament clearly it is. Predictably, the three players charted above who played more than one year in the WJC all had their worst point totals in their first year. With that, you need to take Rielly’s point totals with a grain of salt.
We will continue to track Rielly’s progress as the tournament moves forward. While we’ve created some sort of benchmark –and it’s a ridiculously high one at that – to judge him by, it is important to note that this tournament will not make or break him.
Regardless of what happens during the WJCs, he’s still an excellent prospect. But, it would be nice to see him excel here. Especially since he’s playing for a terrible Moose Jaw team that is nowhere near contention this season and apparently won’t trade him.
I found a few old links that are worth the read and keep things in perspective:
- In which Dion Phaneuf’s head coach Brent Sutter compares him to Scott Stevens.
- In which Jake Gardiner’s college head coach says “if he makes the NHL” and thinks he won’t be a top pairing PPQB.
- In which Morgan Rielly’s current junior head coach compares him to Brian Leetch.