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Top 25 Under 25 - #4 Morgan Rielly

The Leafs' 2012 first-rounder is up four spots from our last edition, landing at #4.

One thing that the Toronto Maple Leafs is sadly lacking in is top-level prospects. What I mean by that is guys that everybody unanimously believes in, the sort of guy that will realize his potential 99% of the time. In my lifetime, I’m struggling to come up with a prospect that the Leafs drafted and developed that fits that bill; Nazem Kadri was definitely close, but there were a few minor concerns with him. You probably have to go back to somebody like Vincent Damphousse or Wendel Clark.

Anyways, Morgan Rielly, the Maple Leafs 1st round pick from the 2012 Entry Draft, is definitely the best prospect the Leafs have in their system, and is likely the first ‘can’t miss’ prospect since those guys I mentioned above. The only question with Rielly was how we would recover from a knee injury that wiped out the majority of his draft season. After a successful season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, and a strong performance for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships, Rielly seems to have answered those questions about his knee.

With a clean bill of health and a future looking bright, Rielly moves up four spots in our countdown, landing at #4

The question the Leafs face with Rielly this season is “Where does he play?”

At 19 years old, the AHL (the league that would probably represent the best option for him) is out. As a CHL draftee he’s not eligible to play there until 20. Entering what would be his fourth (I’m including the season mostly lost to the knee injury) junior season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, a case could be made that Rielly is ready now to progress on to a greater challenge than what the WHL can provide.

That would only leave the NHL. The ongoing contract dispute between the Leafs and Cody Franson does potentially create an opening for Rielly to get a 9-game audition, at which point the Leafs could return him to junior without starting his Entry Level Contract. Something to keep in mind, however, is Rielly is a left shot, where Franson is a right one. The Leafs blueline is already full of left shots, including Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser, and John-Michael Liles. Adding Rielly doesn’t directly fill the spot in the lineup left open by Franson.

The Leafs certainly showed the appropriate level of patience with Nazem Kadri’s development, after rushing and likely stunting the overall development of Luke Schenn. If I had to guess, I’d say the Leafs crowded blueline, precarious salary cap position, and overall need for Rielly to succeed means he spends his year in the WHL. He likely returns to represent Canada at the World Juniors, is traded from Moose Jaw to a contender in the WHL near the deadline, then joins either the Leafs or Marlies should either of their seasons still be going on when Rielly’s junior season comes to a close.

clrkaitken birky SteveBurtch Chemmy SkinnyFish BowerPower JP Nikota PPP 67Sound Rank
4 4 5 4 4 4 5 5 4 4

Rielly’s voting pattern is the exact opposite of Jonathan Bernier’s from yesterday, as all nine voters basically chose between the young defenceman and the goalie for spot number four. The three voters that had Bernier 4 have Rielly at 5, and vice versa for the other six. At 240 points, his total cleared Bernier by three, but because the entire voting group had the top three on another level, he was 18 points behind third place.

He’s a very promising defenceman, just one step behind the guys in the NHL on my list.

Rielly’s a future top-pairing defenceman with all the tools to excel in the NHL. He’s still a couple of years away from being an impact NHL but with him and Gardiner the Leafs could have a stellar top 4 in the making.
Steve Burtch

While Rielly’s play certainly merited the rise that it took, four names that were ahead of him (Phil Kessel, James Reimer, Cody Franson, Matt Frattin) graduated, clearing a path for Rielly to jump from 8th to 4th. Had those names still been on the list, it would have been much more interesting to see what Rielly’s ranking looked like.