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Morgan Rielly a star in third season with Leafs

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Morgan Rielly is leading the Leafs in scoring as a 21-year-old defensemen and now more than ever it's clear the sky's the limit.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are nine defensemen in the NHL with more points than Morgan Rielly through 11 games this season. None of them are 21 years old. All of them are stars.

"I've been pretty lucky," Rielly said of his team-leading eight points on TSN Radio on Tuesday.

But it takes more than luck to score with the likes of PK Subban, Andrei Markov, John Klingberg, Erik Karlsson, John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Ryan Suter, Brent Seabrook, and Roman Josi. Among them, only five have scored at a higher points per 60 minutes (P60) at even strength than Rielly's 1.67.

This, for a player who hasn't been given top powerplay minutes -- only one of his points has come with the man advantage.

This, on a team whose goals per game is better than only the Anaheim Ducks.

Through 11 games, a third-year defensemen has contributed on one third (8/24) of his team's goals. That's not supposed to happen.

But is it sustainable?

Defensemen don't score on 14.3 per cent of their shots (his current clip) over the duration of a full season but Rielly leads all Leafs defensemen in shots on goal with 21 and his PDO is hovering at 99.45 so it's not as though he's converting all that unsustainably while on the ice.

With Rielly's increased ice time this season -- he's playing a career-high and team-high 22:32 TOI which is up two minutes on last season and five minutes on his rookie season -- it's likely he'll be able to continue to generate shots on goal at a higher clip than he ever has. After registering 1.3 shots per game as a rookie, Rielly has seen his generation increase with each season to 1.8 last season and now 1.9 early on in the 2015-2016 campaign.

And while Rielly's current 60-point pace would be a massive and unrealistic leap forward, last year's high of 29 points should be bested with ease, particularly because the team around him is playing a more sustainable brand of possession hockey than they've played in years.

As a player, Rielly has looked noticeably more confident with the puck, especially in the last handful of games, jumping up into the play more often to use his wrist shot. While Rielly has never had a heavy slap shot and is often hesitant to use it, he's demonstrated a willingness to create deep in the offensive zone instead with his ability to skate and get back into the play defensively if need be.

With all three of Rielly's goals coming in the last five games, he's no longer finding his groove. He's found it.

Notice on last night's goal how Rielly eagerly jumps up into the play when he could have easily held back to give the Leafs a three-on-one with back support or a four-on-one without it.

Rielly's skating doesn't go unnoticed either.

"He's got to be in the top of the league in that department," Babcock said following Tuesday's morning skate.

And notice again, not on the shot itself, but prior, how Rielly is constantly surveying the play and sliding in and out of the slot before confidently banging his stick for the pass from Phaneuf.

On Rielly's first goal of the season, that confidence and imposition on the game can be seen as soon as the Leafs retrieve the puck deep in the defensive zone. Watch how hard Rielly skates to get up into the play without thinking twice.

Rielly's always going to be a gifted skater and passer, and he's always going to handle the puck well on the point, but his willingness to jump up into the play and become a shooting threat has made him a star. Watch out.