© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Morgan Rielly from the Moose Jaw Warriors looks drives to the net after beating Jayce Hawryluk of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
This time a year ago Morgan Rielly was preparing to take his first strides on the ice as he tried to push himself to return game action.
There were questions about how surgically repaired right knee would react, how that might affect his game and his status amongst National Hockey League teams.
That all seems very long ago now.
Rielly returned for the Eastern Conference final last spring, was selected fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL draft, played in his first world juniors and attended his first NHL training camp. The 19-year-old Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman also tallied 54 points in 60 games in the WHL.
“It’s been a great year. I’ve had a chance to have a lot of cool experiences,” said Rielly. “Having the chance to play the whole year was great for me. I can’t complain about the amount of ice time I got and the chances I got to improve my game. I played in all situations and that helped me grow as a player.”
Wednesday Rielly will join the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League and is looking to bring his same dynamic game to the professional level.
“Any time I’ve gone to Toronto they’ve always told me that they drafted me for a reason — it’s because of what I am able do with the puck. That’s what they ask me to do,” said Rielly. “I want to play hard every night and try to get better.”
Rielly said he doesn’t know how much playing time he might get with the Marlies, but he’s approaching it as a learning experience first and foremost.
It’s not out of the question that Rielly could make his NHL debut at some point this spring. Either way, the question on many Warriors fans minds is whether or not Rielly will return to Moose Jaw for his 19-year-old season in the fall.
Rielly would have to crack the Leafs lineup next season or return to Moose Jaw — he can’t play in the AHL full-time until his overage season. The Vancouver product would gladly come back to the WHL if that’s what the Leafs decide is best for his development.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing here in Moose Jaw and ... if I got that opportunity I would be happy about it because it’s a great place to play junior hockey,” said Rielly. “We had a goal of making the playoffs. Obviously we didn’t achieve that, but as a group of older guys we’re going to change that next year.”