The Toronto Maple Leafs made the decision to keep 19-year old defenseman Morgan Rielly with the team today.
For this year, he has definitely earned it. However, what does it mean for the future.
Rielly’s game is very similar to fellow Leaf Jake Gardiner. Is it really necessary to have two of the same type of defensemen on the same team? If the Leafs were to make a trade sending Gardiner to another team, it would free up space for defensemen in the Leafs’ pipeline.
The Leafs defensive depth chart currently looks like this.
Dion Phaneuf – Carl Gunnarsson
Morgan Rielly – Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner – Paul Ranger
Mark Fraser (IR)
When Fraser comes back to the lineup, someone will have to sit out. Since Rielly just basically made the team full-time, it would be redundant to sit him down. While Paul Ranger might look like the obvious choice right now, the glutton of defenseman the Leafs have could cause a problem in a couple of years.
Phaneuf will be a free agent at the end of the season and while he’s overpaid right now in some people’s view, he should be re-signed based of his play. Franson also looks to be a big part of the Leafs for the next few years. That leaves Gunnarsson, Fraser, Ranger, and Gardiner.
Not only do the Leafs have depth on their team, but they have several near-NHL ready D-men with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Andrew MacWilliam, Jesse Blacker, T.J. Brennan, Korbinian Holzer and Stuart Percy could all see NHL time within the next couple seasons.
Top that off with prospects like Matthew Finn, Petter Granberg and Tom Nilsson either in junior or Sweden, and the Leafs will have to make some decisions to make soon.
Rielly making the team this season could mean a sooner end to one of his teammate’s tenure with the Maple Leafs. While Gardiner has a lot of potential, that potential would be the very thing that would net the Leafs a greater return.
What happens is still a mystery, but watching what happens with the Leafs blue line crew will be interesting in the coming years.