When Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly took a shot off his right boot at the end of the second period in a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks, Leafs Nation collectively held their breath.
The reason is simple: there is Rielly, who is currently playing sensational hockey, and then a country mile, and then the rest of the Leafs defensive options.
Rielly didn't miss any ice time, which is up to an average of 24:34 per contest and ties him for thirteenth most in the league this season with Pittsburgh Penguins top offseason acquisition in defenseman Erik Karlsson.
A gigantic sigh of relief. Where would the much maligned Leafs defense corps be without Morgan Rielly? Think of that commercial with the goaltender who imagines being in net without pads. It would be exactly like that but with Mark Giordano in between the pipes. Yeah, it would pretty far from okay. Teams would go to work on the Leafs with a pair of pliers and a blow torch.
Morgan Rielly Playing Sensational for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Rielly has been a reliable, rock-solid player that Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe can play in any situation.
He's tenth amongst NHL rearguards with four goals and 25 assists, and has not had a steady partner for long stretches of the campaign. Rielly frequently gets paired with a noticeably declining T.J. Brodie, which makes his strong performance even more impressive.
Rielly, always the consummate team leader, also stepped aside during the early weeks of the season, when Leafs general manager Brad Treliving's worst free-agent signing, the now injured for the season John Klingberg, took his spot as the quarterback on the team's top power-play unit.
Rielly kept working hard, biding his time and it has now come. He's the undisputed leader of a unit that consistently underperforms, but it's not because of anything he does wrong.
The resurgence for Rielly began this past April when the Maple Leafs won their first post-season series in 20 years. Rielly, who got injured during a Leaf loss to the New York Islanders in November of 2022, scored an OT goal to give the Leafs a Game 3 win in Tampa and got the game-tying goal in Game 4.
Since then, Rielly has been on the edge of elite. He will never be considered in the top-tier with Adam Fox, Cale Makar, Roman Josi or Victor Hedman, but he's invaluable to the Leafs, because the drop off after him is enormous.
Moreover, Rielly is just a really good dude. When he's not on the ice for half of every Leafs game, Rielly is the guy who takes care of the the behind-the-scenes crew like he did for the training staff this past October at a nice steakhouse in Dallas.
It's hard to believe that Rielly has only been a regular since breaking in 10 years ago as a 19-year-old when he laced it up with then Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Seems like he's been around forever, but his overall game over the last few months has been about as sensational as ever. His expected goals against (34.17) this season is at the lowest for his entire career and his blocked shots per game (2.11) is tied for his career best.
Rielly has been money for the Leafs. His value would be even higher if Treliving traded for an elite defenseman to give the Toronto Maple Leafs strength where it matters most in the playoffs.