TORONTO- After spending the majority of last season sidelined with a knee injury, defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t expect to be picked 5th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2012 Entry Draft.
“I thought after the injury I might drop a little bit, but really I was happy just to be top-20,” said Rielly. “It’s always tough when you have an injury like that but to have it in a huge year, it was extra tough.”
The 18-year-old was highly ranked by scouts at the beginning of last season but a torn ACL in his right knee kept him out of action from November to April. The uncertainty of such a significant injury had some teams shy away from him because they weren’t able to see what he offered, but Leafs’ GM Brian Burke didn’t hesitate when it came to picking him. Burke even went as far to say that Rielly was number-one potential if it wasn’t for the injury.
The Vancouver native was only able to suit up in 18 regular-season games last year with his Moose Jaw Warriors, putting up 18 points in the process, but after surgery in December and extensive rehab he rejoined his WHL club for the third round of the playoffs.
“It was hard on me as a person, and an athlete, but I was happy to get back for playoffs,” said Rielly. “I had about 12 weeks after the operation when I couldn’t skate and I did a lot of hard exercises in the gym. It was a long process, a slow process.”
Rielly’s return to action with Moose Jaw didn’t last long, though, as his Warriors were knocked out of the post season in five games by the eventual champion Edmonton Oil Kings. He collected three assists in the series but more importantly showed his knee wasn’t going to negatively impact the type of player he is.
“A smooth skater with some skill,” said Rielly about his game. “I try to play a two-way game (but) part of who I am as a player is trying to create opportunities.”
Since being drafted in June, Rielly has had a busy off season as he attended Leafs’ prospect camp in July and in early August he represented his nation at the Canada-Russia Challenge. On Tuesday he was back in Toronto for the NHL Rookie Showcase, which is put on by the NHLPA.
“It’s been hectic with all the traveling,” said Rielly. “I haven’t had a lot of time to just hang out and be 18 but I can’t complain. I had the opportunity to play for Team Canada and any opportunities you have to play for Canada you play your best. I enjoyed it and I think that was when I was at my best.”
The 6′ 190 pounder likely did play his best hockey with Team Canada and, while he may not have proven his GM right as a number-one pick, he did raise the question if he was the best defenceman drafted in 2012. And that is with Ryan Murray and Griffin Reinhart being taken ahead of him.
Rielly admitted he’s hopeful that there is a NHL training camp this fall so that he can get some time with the Leafs and see where his skill stands at the professional level, although it’s unlikely that will happen. With the Leafs’ annual rookie tournament already cancelled he expects to head back to junior soon enough as his Warriors open up their pre-season tonight against the Swift Current Broncos.
“I want to prove my value at camp but if I can’t I’ll head back to Moose Jaw and have a strong year there.”