the process of coming into view or becoming exposed after being concealed.
the process of coming into being, or of becoming important or prominent.
synonyms: appearance, arrival, coming, materialization;
[dropcap font=”0″]I[/dropcap]n September, I took a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs off-season moves and acquisitions at each position as well as some questions heading into the regular season. One of my articles focused on the Leafs defense unit and I had a question in regards to one of the Leafs budding young superstars in the making.
One question I had for the defense was “Will we see a different Morgan Rielly?”, as well as his play under Mike Babcock.
Here is the full excerpt:
Will we see a different Morgan Rielly?
When I say, “a different Morgan Rielly,” I obviously don’t mean it in a negative way. By different, I mean a true offensive powerhouse, puck-moving defenseman.
Ever since Rielly came into the league in 2013, he’s progressively gotten better. Earning more ice-time, playing against more difficult opponents as well witnessing the excellent skating, skill, decision-making with the puck and every other quality we wanted when we drafted him fifth overall in 2012….
Under Babcock, he will definitely have an opportunity to showcase his talent and show the coach that he is capable of taking the next step and becoming a top-pairing player. When Cody Franson was traded, Rielly was gaining more opportunities and more ice-time.
Rielly had good rookie season. He scored eight goals in his second season. I have no doubt, that Rielly will continue to excel in his third season in the NHL and become a key player on the Leafs blueline in the future.
Fast forward to now.
In a year where there might be a lot of downs, The Toronto Maple Leafs are seeing one huge positive in Morgan Rielly. It’s 19 games into the season and boy, are we seeing the emergence of a quality top pairing defenseman that the Leafs desperately needed the past few years.
Rielly is getting ample opportunities to prove his value to Babcock, the rest of the coaching staff and management. Did I mention that he’s only 21-years-old? Every year he has significantly improved and we’re beginning to see the emergence of the “true Morgan Rielly.”
It’s no doubt that the Leafs were going to get what they expected when they drafted Rielly fifth overall in 2012. In his rookie year, he tallied 27 points good for 19th overall among rookies and sixth overall among rookie defenseman. Rielly followed that up with a strong sophomore season, surpassing his 27-point total (29) and scoring eight goals.
Here are some stats comparing Rielly’s numbers from 2014/15 to the 2015/16 season so far. Note: The 2015/16 numbers, as well as other stats used in this article are as of November 20th before the Leafs game vs. Carolina:
|Avg. TOI/ Game||20:20||22:01|
|Shifts per Game||24.8||31.3|
In his third season, Rielly has elevated his play to a whole other level. Rielly has seen an increase in the number of shifts per game and ice time per game. While his power-play time is down from last year, he’s gaining every opportunity to excel at five-on-five. He’s not just an offensive powerhouse (12 points in 19 games, tied for the team lead in points), but he’s starting to become a complete, two-way player that is strong at both ends of the ice.
His possession numbers are reasonable. He’s just below the 50 per cent mark in Corsi For, but it’s higher than the previous year. While his relative number (-0.43%) is down from the previous year. The team has a better CF% when Rielly’s off the ice. That’s due to the fact that he’s garnering a more responsible role as one of the Leafs top defenseman going up against tough competition, like Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Yet, just a few weeks ago, Rielly’s possession numbers were better.
The same goes with his scoring chance numbers. When Rielly is off the ice, the Leafs generate 50.88 per cent of the teams scoring chances with a relative number of 0.09 per cent. Again this is all in part of Rielly going up against teams’ top players and with more defensive responsibilities. Rielly has garnered more neutral zone (133) and defensive zone faceoffs (123). He has had 106 starts in the offensive zone, with a 46.29 per cent differential between offensive and defensive zone starts.
In a recent article by Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, Mike Babcock is slowly grooming Rielly to be a reliable defender.
In the article, Babcock stated: “We are trying to get him to learn how to play without the puck and focus on that totally. I never knew (it would be a priority) until I watched him without the puck and then that became an area that I thought if we want him to be the best player he can be, we have to get him (better) without the puck first.”
Babcock knows he has a special player with limitless potential. He wants to groom him and wants to get the most out of him. There’s nothing wrong with that, even if it means decreasing his time on the power play.
In that same article, Rielly said the following: “I want to become a complete player at even-strength and on the penalty kill, because it’s more important than anything I can do on the power play.”
Rielly also added, “I embrace it. I enjoy the challenge of playing against top players. I have a long way to go in my game.”
This also shows that Rielly is maturing and that he’s focusing on other aspects of his game. It’s not about offense with him. There’s more to the game than just adding to your individual point total. You’re going nowhere if you can’t play at both ends of the ice. Even though fans want to see him on the point with the man- advantage (even myself), it’s all for the best in his development. He will get that opportunity again to be a quarterback on the power-play.
Under Babcock, Rielly has been handed the task of dealing with teams top offensive lines. One example that stood out for me was his matchup with the leagues most deadly offensive duo. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn…twice.
First and foremost, Rielly did an exceptional job of shutting down the Stars top offensive weapons. The only down side being the Jamie Benn goal, Rielly made life miserable for Benn and Seguin in front of the net, being an effective player in shutting them down.
On the Benn goal the shot eluded Reimer. While Rielly was on his man (Benn), he didn’t make an effort to knock the puck loose or challenge Benn. Albeit, Reilly is young and learning, those are the plays that have got to be made. Which is why Babcock wants him to be more aggressive in the defensive zone and challenge players more.
Even though he was dealing with a top offensive duo, Rielly had a Corsi plus/minus of -17 on November 2nd (31.9%) and was a -11 on November 10th (29.6%). But that’s to be expected when you’re a third year player, still learning the game in a new system going up against quality opponents. In this case, the then one, two scorers in the NHL. In those two games, the Leafs allowed three goals against. Benn was one of the three.
Rielly is going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. If he continues to play the way he has so far this season, he is going to get a huge payday.
Has his play been great so far this season? Yes. Is he the best defenseman so far? Again, I would say yes. Is he perfect on the ice? No. There are still some mistakes here and there. Is there room for improvement at 21- years- old? Absolutely!
He has the makings of a great defenseman. Throughout the year, the assignments of shutting down the leagues best players are going to get tougher. But so far he’s been able to stand his ground. He has been no doubt the Leafs best defender so far. And with Babcock helping him in the process, there is nowhere to go but up.
All statistics from NHL.com and War On Ice.