Toronto Maple Leafs: Put Rielly in Position to Succeed

The Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly has a ton of untapped potential.

Entering his age 23 season, the talented and speedy defenseman is somehow also entering his fifth NHL season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Despite expectations for players which never quite jive with reality in Toronto, it’s safe to say that Rielly – as a top-pairing defenseman with a career high of 36 points and the ability to go against top opposition – has met any reasonable expectations.

The question that remains is, is there another level for him? Is he merely very good, or can he be great?

Last Season

A funny thing happened to Rielly on the way to being massively over-hyped: The Leafs drafted not one, not two, but THREE franchise players.  And everyone kind of forgot about the shiny new toy from 2011.

Maybe its better than way.  Last year, after putting up 27, 29 and then 36 points respectively in his first three seasons, Rielly was expected to take another step.

And while I think he did, that isn’t necessarily the prevailing opinion.  Rielly was paired with a rookie, faced some super-tough competition, and was kicked off the power-play.  He regressed to just 27 points, and some started to ask if he was the defenseman of the future we thought he was going to be.

The thing is, if you dig into his stats, he is a bit better than people give him credit for.  While playing the toughest minutes on the team, and being paired with the bad-at-defense-and-a-rookie Nikita Zaitsev, Rielly still managed to push his Corsi over 50%, finishing with a respectable 50.34%.

Considering a negative impact partner and a nightly match-up against the other team’s best players this is impressive.  Relative to his teammates, his Corsi and his shots-against per/60 were positive.

It’s reasonable to think that based on what he’s done so far, that if given a decent partner and some favorable matchups, that Rielly could actually live up to even the loftiest of expectations.

Incredibly Unlucky

Last season, Rielly only put up 27 points.  This really doesn’t reflect the season he had.  At all.

First of all, his PDO was 97, which is incredibly unlucky.  He had just three goals 5v5 while shooting under 3%.  So either that was insanely unlucky, or he’s the worst shooter to ever play in the NHL.  Obviously, he isn’t.

Any random player should shoot 7% minimum or they are just getting unlucky.  Rielly’s on-ice shooting percentage (the SH% of all players while Rielly is on the ice) was only 7.23%  which was the lowest on the team among regulars, other than William Nylander.  Again, this is just bad luck, and is almost guaranteed to go up.

Another place where Rielly got unlucky was in secondary assists.  He only had four.  Given his total ice time, that is preposterous.  Also sure to go up.

Finally, there is the power-play. After averaging nearly two-minutes per game for his first three seasons, Babcock gave him under a minute per game last season.  He had three power-play points, whereas Gardiner had 12 and Zaitsev had 10.

What He Could Be

It’s not difficult to look at this and see how Rielly could turn into a 50 point defenseman by doing literally nothing differently, other than getting some power-play time.  Furthermore, he could get even better with a better partner and less depressing matchups.

Becoming a  possession driving, shot-limiting 60 point super-star doesn’t seem out of the question under the right circumstances.

Keep in mind, this is a 50% CF player who jumps to 52% whenever he gets away from his main partner.  Who furthermore, was 55% last year when playing with either Carrick or Gardiner.

The clear thing for the Toronto Maple Leafs to do is to play him with a partner who compliments him.  So far at training camp, he’s been moved to his off-side and partnered with Ron Hainsey.  Hainsey made every player he played significant minutes with last year worse.  He is not the partner for Rielly.

It is high time the Leafs recognize the potential buried in Rielly’s numbers and give him someone who compliments his game in a way for that to happen.

All Stats from