Leafs Notebook (Part 1) – The looming Rielly decision

Leafs Notebook (Part 1) – The looming Rielly decision

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Morgan Rielly

We are only six games into the regular season, but the Leafs are quickly approaching what will be one of their biggest decisions of the season: What to do with Morgan Rielly.

Rielly has played four games for the Leafs, so if he continues to play every game the Leafs won’t have to make a decision until October 25th, after a game against the Blue Jackets, at the earliest. He’s had a solid start to his NHL career averaging 17:24 a night, which has pretty well been all at evens as he averages less than a minute of shorthanded (11 seconds) and power play (47 seconds) time combined.

The 16:25 Rielly is averaging per game at even strength puts him behind only Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson on defense in that category, meaning he’s getting a regular shift but pretty well no special teams time. He’s partnering with Cody Franson, and at even strength is a top four defenseman. He’s playing.

The real question is how Rielly will develop throughout the season. Between 2004 and 2010, here are the other defensemen drafted in the top five,  along with the year they broke into the league and an update on what they’re doing now:

2004: Cam Barker
- Went back to junior for two years after being drafted, and then split his first two pro season between the NHL and AHL.
- First full season in the NHL without any AHL time came in the 09-10 season, and he only played 13:05 per game that year. He’s currently out of the league.
- Appears Chicago kept waiting for him to develop, but he was a bust.

2005: Jack Johnson
- Went back to college for the two seasons following being drafted, much to the chagrin of Carolina’s GM Jim Rutherford because he traded him in part for doing so.
- He stepped straight into the NHL at 20 and played 21:41 a night for 74 games.
- Johnson has always been bad defensively, but he did begin showing his offensive potential at 22 with a 36 point season. The following year he had a career-high 42.

2006: Erik Johnson
- After being drafted first overall Johnson went back to college for one year before stepping into the NHL full-time at 19 and played 18:11/night.
- Now he’s a decent top four, but he hasn’t exactly lived up to his billing or potential.

2007: Thomas Hickey
- Went back and played in the WHL for two years after being drafted, playing very well and starring for team Canada in the WJC.
- Was limited to only 19 games in his first AHL season because of shoulder surgery, but then played 77 and 76 game seasons afterward before getting hurt in what was supposed to be his fourth full AHL season.
- At 23 he began establishing himself as an everyday NHL defenseman with the Islanders and looked solid doing so.

2007: Karl Alzner
- Went back and played his fourth year in the WHL after being drafted, while also starring for Team Canada. He was named top defenseman in the CHL in the same season.
- Split the next two years between the NHL and AHL before sticking for good at 22 years old. Now he’s a minute eating, shutdown, top four defenseman.

2008: Drew Doughty
- Made the Kings out of camp and then went on to lead the team in total ice time and ice time per game.
- He’s an elite defenseman and ascended as one. Has a Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold already.

2008: Zach Bogosian
- Played 18 minutes a night for 47 games and put up a respectable 19 points in a sheltered role.
- He’s stuck in the NHL since and has established himself as a top four defenseman with a long-term contract in hand. Bogosian has shown flashes of his offensive potential here and there but he hasn’t realized it yet.

2008: Alex Pietrangelo
- Went back to the OHL for the next two years after being drafted, despite getting a look in the NHL both times.
- He exploded for 43 points in his first full NHL season, and also played 22 minutes per game (and had the most total ice time of anyone on the team). Now
he’s a perennial Norris candidate.

2008: Luke Schenn
- Went straight to the NHL and played 21:32/game in a solid rookie season on a bad team.
- Since then he’s followed an on year-off year pattern in his career, but has never really shown that he can be the dominating physical force he was compared to in his draft year (Adam Foote).

2009: Victor Hedman
- Stepped straight into the NHL after being drafted and played nearly 21 minutes a night.
- Hedman has slowly and steadily grown as time has gone on, but he hasn’t become the dominating defenseman many thought he would be.

2010: Erik Gundbranson
- Played one more year in the OHL after being drafted, then played full-time for the Panthers logging 14:11/night (on a playoff team).
- Has now seen his ice time grow for two straight years and is beginning to establish himself as a legitimate top four defenseman.

It’s important to note that Rielly has already played one full season in the WHL after being drafted, but he also barely played in his draft year due to injury.

In comparison to most of these other defensemen, Rielly isn’t a big physical player (both Johnsons, Bogosian, Gundbranson, Hedman…) and instead relies on his skill, speed, passing ability, and vision to be a successful player. By that token, he’s better set to succeed in a sheltered scoring role and put up reasonable point totals, similar to Jake Gardiner.

It’s pretty clear, looking at what was done with defensemen drafted top 5 between 2004-2010, that there’s no science on what to do and each case really has to be judged on an individual basis.

In the last three games with Rielly in, Phaneuf has only played over 25 minutes once (25:02 vs. Colorado), and resting Phaneuf even if it’s just for an extra minute a night has to be appealing. The Leafs have evened out their minutes and spread out the time on ice effectively with Rielly in the fold which, to me, makes him a more attractive option to stay versus leave.

Rielly has the ability to play in the NHL, but Franson played better with Gardiner in the first two games of the season and Ranger is beginning to play the type of hockey the Leafs thought he could. Plus, Fraser will get a spot when he returns so if everyone is healthy Rielly might struggle to get into games.

To make matters even more complicated, TJ Brennan is playing like a man amongst boys in the AHL in order to show that he deserves to play in the NHL. Beyond Brennan, the Leafs have Percy and MacWilliam who both look like they could give the Leafs minutes this season if need be.

In other words, his play has shown enough to suggest that he could stay, but the Leafs have quite a few options and might not miss a beat if he goes back down. So again, the question becomes what’s best for his development. If he stays, he’s going to learn the ins and outs of the league in a controlled environment; if he goes down, he’s going to dominate while also starring for Team Canada.

Regardless of what happens, Rielly gets credit for making this such a tough decision in the first place. Unlike when Schenn made it, the Leafs have legitimate playoff aspirations, making it an even tougher roster to crack, plus they have depth on defense in not only the NHL but the AHL, too. That the Leafs will be in the playoff race makes the loss of a year off of Rielly’s entry level contract (ELC) more palatable; they wouldn’t be “wasting” a season having him on a bad team.

There are still five games to go, and while it is a limited amount of games to judge him on, it’s going to sway the decision either way. Rielly logged his lowest ice time on ice against Edmonton. The next step will be seeing how he responds as make or break time is quickly approaching.

Notes, Quotes, and 5 Things I Think I’d Do to follow later on.

Anthony Petrielli has been writing Leafs Notebooks, also known as short stories, on MLHS since the beginning of the 2011 season. He'd rather let his work do the talking but Alec and Declan have been bugging him about writing a bio, so here it is. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli
402 comments
rlpeppler
rlpeppler

@APetrielli I agree. need to give Reimer a game tonight to keep this tender battle going.

DARF24
DARF24

pretty sad that Gordon is EDM top scorer atm, Like gordon is a good player but that not his role at all lol.


Plus he wasn't drafted 1st overall .....  :p

LeafsForLife
LeafsForLife

Great job as always Anthony! Thank you again for your hard work.

I believe the best thing to do with Rielly right now is to send him to the WHL and let him dominate there. Let him go to WJC and probably dominate there as well. Then go back to WHL and hopefully make the playoffs or come play for Marlies in the playoffs. We have the available young guys to play right now and there is no reason to rush Rielly into the NHL if we can afford to take our time with him.

mike_84
mike_84

Everyone  wants a 1C. We have Bozie Kadri Bolland. unless you plan on getting rid of one of the, or moving one to the wing then i don't know where there all gonna play if you bring in another high money C. We need another Dman right now. 

Optimustic
Optimustic

Wild score with 9.7 seconds left in the 2nd period,  1 second left on the PP by Pominville.

MaxwellHowe
MaxwellHowe

@GeorgeCastanza 

Why not stick him in at centre.  Skates well with the puck, great vision, now battling down low.  And he can lose faceoffs just as well as Bozie, Kadri or Bolland.

whalz
whalz

i cant stand HUDDLE.........and wow what a tweet!!! its fukin obvious that their d and goalie situtation are shit.......

reimer + liles for YAK and Labarbra.

GeorgeCastanza
GeorgeCastanza

@-Keon- Oilers will get Mcdavid when thay tank again next year.  LOL...but seriously....

The_Polish_Cannon
The_Polish_Cannon

@newkb @mike_84 @TheColborneUltimatum we dont know what scenarios will present themselves. A team might be deep down the middle but desperately need help on D or goaltending. We send some pieces, include Bozie so that way the team has a capable center to fill the hole they created, and also shore up the back end.

newkb
newkb

@mike_84 @TheColborneUltimatum Exactly....and how exactly do the Leafs fit a #1 centre with a commensurate salary under the cap without decimating some other part of the team?

whalz
whalz

you cant think that every russian will bolt to the NHL.....remember when Kessel said to the media that "maybe things werent working out" after a game, ??/ media went with Kessel wants out blah blah blah.......things in the media get blown out.....i dont think his value goes down at all............and as for Couturier (yes i think he has a chance to be a #1 centre) however other players are avail if LILES is included to offset the cap which would have to be a given....say a Duschene or Jeff Carter ??? sure they are 5+ so a LILES would have to be included.....just sayin it could work either way

newkb
newkb

@whalz So Couturier is the answer according to wwhaaaaalz?  Here's the thing...whether or not Yak stays or goes, the perception will dog him now....so value takes a direct hit.

whalz
whalz

well according to NKOTB hes going to the KHL so hes not worth anything.......

but id offer them Reimer + Gunner

whalz
whalz

lmao...watch a game or two?? please grow up!!! First off it was a jk to get Yak for that package...however, Reimer is not crap as he is a#1 goalie (which they need)....add in a dman and then flip Yak for another young Centreman who is on a ELC. (couturier,)?? ....thats how you fit him under the cap MR Delusional....

whalz
whalz

this is a perfect time to circle them as im sure MAC T is ready to pull the trigger, too many fwds on that team, they need to shake things up

newkb
newkb

@whalz And you believe we can get him for crap and flip him for a #1c - and fit it all under the cap?  Who's the delusional one here?  And the Leafs most pressing need is a #1c?  Yikes....watch a game or two...

sniperstar
sniperstar

@sniperstar I don't see why everyone thinks Yak is going to fly off to the KHL. The guy wants to be in the NHL. He came over to NA for Jr hockey to get used to the NA game before he was drafted.
Yes he's been scratched. The kid is learning right now. But he is a former 1st overall with a ton of talent. I don't think that's something we should pass up if we can get it for cheap.

whalz
whalz

new kid on the block,,,,,so everything that is tweeted is a done deal? you believe it?  hes not going to the KHL...

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

@whalz That whole team has a losing attitude. I really hope Nonis is looking elsewhere.

whalz
whalz

Howard Berger tweeted today that the leafs are in trade discussions about moving a dman.....id love to see a trade with EDM

sniperstar
sniperstar

@newkb After RC straightens him out everyone will want a piece of Yak.

newkb
newkb

@whalz You mean the same guy threatening to go to the KHL?  You mean you''ll get him for crap, and flip him for a ton?  OK

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

@whalz They need a Lupul or a Phaneuf and they aren't getting jack shit from us.

whalz
whalz

naaa,,,hes a former 1st overall pick a yr ago.....new coach...  he would b fine going anywhere else..

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

@whalz I know I just said hes only played less than 60 games but teams may not like his attitude right now and deem him avoidable.

whalz
whalz

lol...let me say this slowly,,,,

tor can than flip Yak somewhere else for that #1 C...........

ok?

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

@whalz We need to use our trade chips on pieces we need. We dont need wingers. We need a 1C.

whalz
whalz

you dont pass up an opportunity to get a skilled winger...use that as a bargaining chip to aquire a top d or centreman