Friday’s game in Columbus will be Rielly’s ninth of the season as he was scratched in the first two games. Today’s announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise as Carlyle seems to trust Rielly’s ability to play at the NHL level. Carlyle has played him just over 18 minutes per game on average, including significant time on the second power-play unit.
I’ve gone back and forth on my opinion on whether or not the Leafs should keep him up, and I see the merits of both situations. Rielly might benefit from dominating in the WHL for another year and gain a great experience in playing for Team Canada’s World Junior squad again. But I also think Rielly is clearly too skilled for the WHL, and may pick up some bad habits playing against lesser competition. As a 19-year-old, he is not permitted to play full-time in the AHL this year.
Overall, I think Rielly has proven he can play in the NHL. His skating and passing is top-notch, and he and Jake Gardiner provide a pretty deadly one-two offensive punch from the back-end. He’s had his fair share of mistakes along the way, but that’s to be expected from a 19-year-old.
As James Mirtle pointed out on Twitter, the next question for the Leafs regarding Rielly becomes whether or not they want to keep him past the 40-game mark when he burns a year towards unrestricted free agency. The nine-game threshold is the limit before Rielly starts playing into his entry-level contract. If Rielly falls out of the top six and struggles between now and the 40-game mark, the Leafs will have the option to send him down.