With the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Morgan "I before E, except after C" Rielly from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. This pick adds another young defenceman to a stable that includes Jesse Blacker, Jake Gardiner, Carl Gunnarsson, Stuart Percy, Korbinian Holzer, and Cody Franson. This morning Justin Schultz became a free agent and if he were to sign with the Leafs then it starts to resemble something that might be impressive someday.
The reaction to this pick was not solely good since only Tambellini had the benefit of a unanimous pick - a benefit he's smugly smiling about right now - and to be honest there are pros and cons to the pick. After the jump, I'll outline some of my issues with the pick and the things that I like about it.
NHL Numbers has been doing a lot of great work since it's been relaunched. One of the great posts it put together was a top 100 draft prospects list which was is a weighted ranking of eight draft gurus and scouting services' lists. While you can probably pull one single ranking to support your argument for or against the selection of Rielly, this one takes into account prior success rates in developing the list.
When the Leafs stepped up to the podium Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mathew Dumba, and Teuvo Teräväinen were still available and ranked higher than Morgan Rielly. Obviously, the fact that he only played 18 regular season and 5 playoff games had an impact on his final ranking. His path back from his ACL injury played a big part in the Leafs' selection as he impressed them with his work ethic and dedication to returning to help his team. Having said that, we're still being asked to put our faith in a collection of scouts that have not produced a single consistent NHLer from the draft since Luke Schenn in 2008. Part of that is obviously by design on Burke's part but none of those picks have forced the issue. It makes trusting them a little harder.
Cynicism and History
After the first four picks of the draft had passed, the Maple Leafs seemed poised to pick up an impact forward. When they went in another direction, as a Leafs fan, it is easy to discuss how long it will take Filip Forsberg to make the hall of fame or how many goals Mikhail Grigorenko will score the next time the Leafs lose 8-2 in Buffalo. A lot of the build up to the draft (until Grigorenko apparently aged two years in two weeks) focused on the four top forwards and the fact that the Leafs would need someone to go far off the board in order to land a guy like Grigorenko or Galchenyuk.
Once they picked a defenceman it became easy to react poorly to the pick not because it was bad but because it wasn't as good as the best option that we had been presented. And really, what are Leafs fans supposed to expect from first rounders other than disappointment?
Best Player Available
When the name Tyler Biggs comes up, the debate moves to the actual player which completely misses the point. The main issue should be that the Maple Leafs chose a player with a lower ceiling but a higher probability of success rather than going after some of the highly skilled players that were available that may ultimately have less of a chance of making the NHL but would have a much higher ceiling. Toronto is a franchise that has an abundance of potential bottom half NHLers but lacks the top-end prospects of other systems. They need to roll the dice on skill when they can.
Burke may have been blowing smoke about just how highly they had Morgan Rielly rated but it's certainly not a stretch to think that Rielly would be considered the best player available. Hockey Prospectus focused on Rielly's high end skating and offensive abilities, B.J. MacDonald spoke about how well he reads the game, and The Scouting Report re-iterated his strong offensive game while one of their correspondents noted that he'd be high-end offensively but not very good defensively.
Ultimately, the conclusion is that the Leafs have drafted a good player regardless of who we wanted them to choose. Rielly isn't shit because he's not Grigorenko or Forsberg.
Addressing Organizational Needs
The flip side of the Leafs going with the best player available is that they didn't succumb to drafting for need. This is important because teams have other options for addressing needs. One of the main reasons I think that people were disappointed with the pick was because the Leafs do not have high-end forwards in their system. Or at least, we've collectively lost faith in Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne as players that will be top end forwards.
One thought that I saw frequently Friday night was that Burke was going to have to address the gap in the forward ranks through a trade. Lo and behold, with the addition of Rielly and Matt Finn in the second round, Burke was able to move Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James Van Riemsdyk.
The Difficulty Of Drafting Defencemen
The development time for defencemen has always been acknowledged as longer than forwards but is it also harder to identify the good ones at draft time? There seems to be some evidence that NHL teams struggle at identifying quality defencemen when they are teenagers.
The Man Himself
It's probably a 50/50 proposition whether Rielly will be able to advance to the NHL next season. He's 5-foot-11 1/2 and 190 pounds, so it might be a lot to ask him to handle the NHL grind at 18 years old. The Leafs, who have the longest skein of playoff misses since the 2004-05 lockout, may have to be patient with his development.
In hindsight, that season-robbing injury might have been the best thing to happen. For the Leafs, it was the reason why he slid down in the order. And for Rielly, it provided the youngster with a rare opportunity to show just how determined he was when facing adversity.
'Dub' Defensemen: It was supposed to be a big year for blueliners and obviously that played out with eight of the top 10 picks coming from the 'D' corps. But it was the Western League that reigned supreme, with all of the 'Big Five' going early. Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Matt Dumba and Derrick Pouliot all repped the 'Dub,' with only Sweden's Hampus Lindholm interrupting at No. 6. As crazy as it looks on the board, these were the players that teams were excited about and all bring different looks, so there were a lot of skill sets to be coveted. Still, it's impressive.
The 30 teams, it's clear, had wildly differing opinions on the teenage talent available, some of which had played very little last season due to serious injuries.
That included the third pick taken, centre Alex Galchenyuk by the Montreal Canadiens, and the fifth player selected, defenceman Morgan Rielly by the Maple Leafs.
Galchenyuk played two regular-season games. The speedy Rielly played 18 games for Moose Jaw before undergoing knee surgery, just like Galchenyuk. The 10th player selected, Slater Koekkoek of the Peterborough Petes, was sidelined with a shoulder injury in November and played 26 games.