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Morgan Rielly: not first overall, not Rookie-of-the-Year, but maybe the best selection of 2012…

You know how the analysts and “experts” nowadays will often write a column reflecting on drafts from years ago?  They take a retrospective look at what players were drafted when, and they consider if the draft were to be held again now, would teams draft differently based on how payers have performed since they joined the NHL.

With that in mind and with the 2014 NHL entry draft just hours away, I can’t help but look back and think that the Leafs just may have the very best player from the 2012 graduating class.

VLM readers will know I was not keen on Morgan Rielly staying with the Leafs this past season at the end of training camp. I was hoping he would stay another year in junior hockey and play for Canada at the World Junior championships.  I did not see him having the kind of experienced support needed on the Leaf blueline to thrive at this level. But while losing a year of his entry-level contract may turn out to be a concern down the road, there is little doubt in my mind that the former Moose Jaw rearguard is already an emerging star in this league.

When I look back at the players drafted before and after him (while things can always change, of course) it seems clear to me that Rielly may be the best of the lot.  Sure, he struggled in his own zone at times this past season, but that’s to be expected for any young defenseman.  He is not the most physical guy, but I have vivid memories of moments when he was on the ice this past season where he did things that are hard to describe, but were impossible not to notice.

Rielly seems to have the ability to move so fluidly and be at high gear so quickly that he stands out on pure skill alone.  There were times when he would block a shot in front on his own goal and an instant later was leading a rush up ice the other way.  He just has those offensive instincts that separate him from most players who lack the ability or confidence to make the kind of plays he does.  He is a risk-taker, yes, but smart. And he strikes me as an ultra-competitive guy, someone who has a desire to be the best.

So I may be wrong, but I think the Leafs have a legitimate blue-chip, “untouchable”-worthy player in their midst right now.  He wasn’t the first overall selection in 2012 (that was Yakupov to the Oilers) or even the first defenseman selected (that was Murray to the Jackets) and he did not win the Calder Trophy on Wednesday night (that went to MacKinnon).  But I believe we have the player, still just 20, who may prove to be the the most outstanding player of the entire draft when we look back on the 2012 lineup a few years from now, and the “experts” re-assess what will have become a possible turning point selection for the blue and white.

This year, the Leafs sect 8th overall. Can they pick someone with the same upside as Rielly, who was chosen 5th overall? Toronto grabbed Darryl Sittler (right) 8th overall back in 1970, one of the earliest of the "universal" drafts, as I believe they were called back then.  The Leafs would be fortunate indeed to make that kind of impact choice this time around.


  1. Hi Michael,

    I would really like to know what Gus has to say about it.

    I think they made a really good choice and if Rielly keeps on developing we will have a great D-man for years. It is a bit early to say if he is the best in this draft because D-man need a bit more time and we don't know what Murray will be, his stats are okay but I did not watch him as closely. What we can say is that the highly praised forwards in the 2012 draft are somewhat disapointing.

    If they did their homework and choose wisely they can pick a player with a comparable upside.
    But I warn to trade up in this draft because it is very comparable to 2012 and if the price is so steep like reported, stay away from it. No one agreed about the true number one pick and if someone willing to part with the number one pick (every GM is dreaming of in Hockey) there is something foul.
    And the Panthers are not that stacked with talent that they can pass on the Shae Weber type defenseman like some reporters see in Ekblad. Be careful. And Phaneuf + Gardiner + 8th pick is absolutly crazy.

    I am optimistic the will choose a player that will really help in the long term.

    Burke said at the 2012 draft he would have picked Rielly even at number one. He was not wrong with that.

    1. I think the Leafs are very happy they picked Rielly, Marcus. He just has those instincts (and skill) that make him a real talent. I agree that the Leafs should be cautious about trading key players to move up this year- they can still get a good player at number 8.

  2. It is possible. But it is very early days. And yes, Burke did say that. How many times do GM's say after the draft "We got our guy. We couldn't believe he was still there at our pick" ? :)))

    Some pretty good players have already started to show their worth besides Morgan though. Matthew Dumba had a really good rookie season as did Tomas Hertl before he was injured. Olli Maatta looked good as a rookie for the Pens. Tanner Pearson was drafted 30th overall by LA and he looked not too terrible for the Kinds in the playoffs. I have seen enough of Griffin Reinhart to believe he is going to be a stud all around dman for a long time in the NHL.

    Could Rielly be the best of the bunch? Yes, he sure could. And he is as untouchable as anyone on the Leafs can be without a doubt. But we won't know for a number of years yet if he is top of the draft class or not.

    1. I meant the Matthew Dumba who spells his name Jacob Trouba :))

    2. I agree, Pep. We won't know for a few years which of the players (or any others) you mentioned may become the guy everyone looks back on and says they are "the best". Rielly is at least going to be in the mix.

  3. It's always premature to rate drafts so soon afterward, as too many questions have not yet been answered. In 1974 we might have seen an article lamenting how Guy Lafleur had failed to live up to his promise as an elite scorer coming out of the QMJHL. It is entirely possible that in 2022, we may have found that Yapukov or someone else, say Filip Forsberg to take a name out of a hat, has become a superstar.
    For early returns, I will say that I am quite happy with Rielly. I liked Luke Schenn coming into the NHL, as much as he was rushed, he showed a lot of heart and effort, but Rielly brings a different element altogether. His pure skill as well as the head on his shoulders puts him above his draft class at this point. He appears to be the real deal indeed.
    I admire the Red Wings' player development system, but I think too much praise has been given them for discovering Datsuk and Zetterberg so late in the draft. They were lucky twice and built a team around these two cornerstones. If they really felt they had something so special, they would have snapped them up by the second or third round and not risked losing them to someone else. The draft has constantly proven to be a crapshoot.
    As I write this, the Leafs still hold the number eight pick. Assuming that is where they stay, a find like Darryl Sittler would be great indeed. But then Ryan Sittler was taken seventh overall, and we know how that turned out.

    1. All good points, Pete. And it is especially true that the Wings have been lauded for those picks (Datsyuk and Zetterberg) when other teams could indeed have drafted them earlier.

      I think even the best GMs and scouts acknowledge that the draft is a crap shoot, and we are all wise to wait years before making any firm assessments!

  4. Hi Michael,

    I think this is the kind of pick you like. I like him, he is a good pick and he has the upside you talk about.

    Let's see how he develops, but he is defenetly the kind of player the Leafs need.

    1. I like this pick too. I've questioned our scouting a few times but now wonder if they've been asked by management to pick the safe player in the past. Why would you not pick skill, speed and confidence over big, safe and mediocre? Colleen

  5. Thank you Colleen!

    I do not know why. And I don't know what drives them to certain decissions sometimes, not only in the draft. Let's see how the summer plays out.

    1. Should be interesting. The draft is where you can take a chance and possibly be rewarded, something that Shanahan mentioned. Building the team takes more careful, well thought out decisions, good cap management, reasonable (and movable) contracts---and that's not what we've seen from our builders. I think the Leafs have been doing things backwards for far too many years. I hope the later Leaf picks are similar.

      A little water just appeared in my empty cup (and I can't stop looking at it! ) Colleen