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Having missed nearly the entire 2011/2012 season due to a knee injury suffered last November, a lot of question marks surrounded Morgan Rielly entering the 2012 draft. A strong combine, including top 10 finishes in the leg power, bench press and grip test helped alleviate some concerns, but it would be remiss to say there weren’t a few eyebrows raised when the Leafs selected Rielly 5th overall last June with forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and Filip Forsberg still on the board. However, with 26 points in 31 games to open this season, it is safe to say the knee is not an issue.
Offensively, Rielly is the most skilled defenseman of the 2012 draft class. His explosive and dynamic skating allows him to rush the puck up the ice and gain the offensive zone with ease. His exceptional vision and passing along with this skating make him a lethal offensive asset on the back end. On the powerplay is where Morgan is especially dangerous. He’s relied upon heavily in Moose Jaw to carry the puck through the neutral zone and gain the offensive line, which he does with relative ease. Once inside the zone, Rielly draws extra attention from penalty killers, often drawing multiple defenders, however his elite skating allows him to be extremely shifty and elusive and he usually has no problem creating space for himself and finding an open teammate for a scoring chance. His shot from the point isn’t particularly powerful, but his mobility allows him to find and create shooting lanes and his shot does get through to the net more often than not.
Rielly’s defensive game is perhaps not as polished as fellow 2012 draftees Ryan Murray and Griffin Reinhart, but it is sound in its own right. While not overly aggressive physically, Rielly does possess a good, active stick and uses his elite skating to get himself out of trouble. His ability to pivot, spin, and shake forecheckers is second to none and will be a huge asset as he turns pro. Without the puck, Rielly does need to continue working on his defensive zone positioning as he can sometimes get caught chasing the puck and losing his man. He can also become overly aggressive offensively at times with his pinches and high risk plays at the offensive blue line. There is so much pure skill and ability there, but it will be important that he learns when to rein it in and play it safe when needed.