Maple Leafs tell Rielly he's staying in the NHL for forseeable future
Morgan Rielly loved being a Moose Jaw Warrior.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Morgan Rielly carries the puck up ice for the Moose Jaw Warriors in action from the 2011-12 regular season.
Thursday the 19-year-old was ecstatic to find out he would likely never play for them again.
Before the Toronto Maple Leafs morning practice, general manager Dave Nonis told Rielly he was going to stay with the Leafs after he plays his ninth NHL game Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Once Rielly plays his 10th NHL game his entry-level contract kicks in. He is expected to spend the rest of the season with the Leafs.
“It's a pretty good feeling to have it all over with. I can concentrate on playing hockey and getting better every day,” said Rielly.
The debate about whether the defenceman should stay in the NHL or be sent back to the Warriors raged from the start of the Leafs training camp. Rielly is happy that his immediate future is mapped out and he can focus on making the transition to the NHL.
“It was pretty tough. Obviously in Toronto there’s a lot of media. I’m pretty happy that I can move on from it. It will be nice not to have to answer questions about it any more,” said Rielly who added that it would be easier to settle into the team dynamic knowing he was sticking around.
After all of the speculation, the timing of the news surprised Rielly.
“I didn’t see it coming, but I was pretty happy when it did,” he said.
Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle told the media in Toronto that just because Rielly was staying in Toronto past the nine-game barrier that didn’t guarantee he would be with the Leafs for the entire season. Yet, players are rarely returned to junior after that point.
If Rielly plays 40 games in the NHL this season he will be credited with a full season in the league and become an unrestricted free agent a season earlier.
Because of his age, Rielly can’t be sent down to the American Hockey League for any extended period of time.
He could still join up with Canada’s national junior team and play in his second world junior championship.
“We didn’t really talk about it too much to be honest. I’m sure that will probably pop up around Christmastime when we have to make a choice on that,” said Rielly when asked about playing at the world juniors in Malmo, Sweden in December.
Rielly’s play to date has certainly showed that he belongs in the NHL.
He has four assists in nine games so far this season. He has been a fixture on the Leafs blue line since Mark Fraser went down with an injury. He’s been matched with Cody Franson on their second pairing and is averaging 18 minutes of ice time per game.
Rielly feels he can still earn his ice time once the Leafs defence is healthy.
“I have to keep working hard and keep playing my game. I can’t be too worried about what other players are doing,” he said. “It is a team-first attitude that you have to have. As a player, you want to play every game, but you have to do whatever is going to help the team the most.” If Rielly’s WHL career is over, he leaves as arguably the greatest defenceman in Warriors team history. He had 21 goals and 100 points in 143 career WHL regular season games, but the numbers don’t fully convey the full scope of his talent.
Rielly moved to Wilcox to play for Notre Dame as a bantam hockey player before being chosen by the Warriors second overall in the WHL bantam draft. He spent five seasons in Saskatchewan and the Vancouver product said he is thankful for his time in the Friendly City.
“I had a great experience playing in Moose Jaw. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything,” said Rielly. “It’s a great place to play hockey. I always enjoyed being part of the community and having the chance to play for a great team and for a great coach. I had so many good teammates along the way.
“I think it’s one of the best places to play junior hockey in Canada.”