Morgan Rielly is from West Vancouver, British Columbia. He plays for Moose Jaw. He skates well, like Bobby Orr only just not like Bobby Orr… because nobody is like Bobby Orr. On Wednesday night, Rielly did what all defenceman have to do — score winners from tough angles. He did it against the Vancouver Giants. Rielly will also play for Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. We know this because he’s had a stellar season and everyone knew him before this year already.
That’s because Rielly was drafted fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Praise was high for him then, but it’s only eclipsed since. He’s like Cody Hodgson in 2009, only the hype is real this time.
“I’m actually anxious to see what he could do, being as good a player as he is, playing at a higher level with higher-level players,” said his Warriors coach, Mike Stothers, in The Globe and Mail on Thursday.
Stothers’ acclaim was justified after Wednesday night’s game, when Rielly and Moose Jaw limited the (woeful) Giants to seven shots through the opening two periods.
“We maybe get a little spoiled from what we see out of Morgs on a daily basis, on a game-to-game basis… But, I think he just showed why he’s a difference-maker and a game-breaker, and a guy that is worthy of being picked fifth overall.”
Lord knows, this is exactly what Toronto needs. They’ve been used to blowing it with high-profile prospects. Their management rushes the wrong guys and drowns the ones who are ready. It’s a graveyard for everything but the ice, itself. They seem to run through excitement and fanaticism like it’s a gas tank and they’re trying to avoid a pitstop in an F1 game for the Playstation 3.
As a kid from Vancouver, as well, Rielly is about to enter the Canadian mecca of hockey. The lights will overtake his brain and the atmosphere will be a candy store for a kid coming from years of amateur hockey in Saskatchewan.
Of course, Rielly loves where he’s been. That only makes it easier to believe he’ll love where he’s going.
“It’s easily one of the trop place to play junior hockey in Canada,” said Rielly to Damien Cox recently. “It’s cold and it’s gloomy sometimes. But, to play junior hockey in Moose Jaw is the only place I’d want to be.”
It was enough for Brian Burke, which (by default) makes it enough for Toronto. There were great players available in last year’s draft, including current KHL star and possible Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov and another defenceman in Ryan Murray, but Burke didn’t balk when asked which player he coveted most.
“Once the Islanders announced their pick, there was no discussion at the table, there was no hesitation, it was punch that name in the computer as soon as they tell us,” Burke said in June to TSN.ca.
“We had this kid rated one… Wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true just to build up the pick, but this is a guy (that) had we had the first pick in the draft, we would’ve taken him.”
“It’s a huge hono(u)r and I’m extremely proud to be a Leaf today,” Rielly said immediately after June’s draft. “Obviously, growing up in Canada, I was hoping I had a chance (to play for a Canadian team)… to hear my name called, it was pretty special.”