It’s hard not to like Maple Leafs’ defenceman Morgan Rielly. As a person.
But when the Toronto Star runs an online article suggesting that Rielly is inching his way towards status as a true #1 defenceman, this writer says:
Not a chance in hell.
Unlike Norris trophy winners like Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, Rielly can’t shoot the puck. A point shot from Rielly is a combination of feeble velocity and horrible accuracy. He either shoots high and wide, or plants the puck smack in the middle of the goalkeeper’s chest protector. Yes, yes, I know, that over a long 82-game schedule Rielly will get a few pucks into the net, but it’s the big picture we’re looking at here.
When a guy like Karlsson marches in off the point, about to launch a puck towards the net, you can hear the anticipation from the crowd, especially during Senators’ home games. When Morgan Rielly steps up from the blueline to fire a shot on net, Toronto fans use that moment as an opportunity to go to the beer fridge for a refill. The chances of anything significant happening is remote at best.
Morgan Rielly deserves a lot of credit for the way he uses his superb skating skills to wheel a puck out of his own end. This is clearly his most important contribution game-in and game-out. Especially on a team like Toronto that is a horrible mess in its own end.
But the moment Rielly enters the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, his total lack of offensive imagination sees him constantly circle around-and-around-around the zone perimeter, never attempting anything remotely creative along the way. The problem with that style of play is that his teammate Jake Gardiner has already mastered it as his own.
While Rielly’s excellent mobility is an asset when defending, he’s total lack of physical play and/or toughness and his penchant for chasing the puck like a cat pursuing a mouse makes him an average defender at best.
The thing that Toronto fans should be most concerned about is the possibility that the Maple Leafs end up paying Morgan Rielly elite money, thus preventing them from ever landing a real #1 defenceman.
Rielly is a good #4 defenceman on a championship team. Nothing more. Nothing less.