Rielly adapting to NHL game

Katie Brickman
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Former Warrior focused on helping Leafs in playoff push

For the first time in over a year, Morgan Rielly took a break from playing hockey.

Morgan Rielly pulls on his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey at Friday’s NHL draft.

As Team Canada skated to gold at the Olympic Games, the rookie defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs headed back to Vancouver, B.C. during the break.

“It was nice to go home for a little bit and take it easy,” said Rielly. “I didn’t do much.”

With more than half of the season done, the 19-year-old defenceman is still learning and developing while playing at the highest level.

“I think it has gone pretty well, but there is always that period of time after you make the jump from junior to pro where you have to change your game a little bit and keep learning on the fly and you have to be able to make adjustments,” he said via a phone interview from Montreal. “I think I have handled them pretty well, but there is always room to improve.”

Rielly produced highlight reel plays during his three seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors, scoring 100 points in 143 games. He missed 55 games in the 2011-12 season due to a torn ACL injury, but that didn’t stop him from coming back stronger and proving why he was drafted fifth overall in the NHL draft that summer.

Although he only has two goals and 19 points thus far this season, Rielly is focused on becoming a better all-round player.

“It is not too easy to get points in this league. You have to be able to play at each end of the ice and you have to be good in your own end,” said Rielly of the difficulties of scoring in the NHL. “If you have a chance to play offence and get a chance to score, you have to make the most of it, but you are playing against high quality players … it is not that easy to get those breaks, but hopefully as I keep learning and keep playing, that is just an aspect of the game that will come naturally.”

Rielly is getting a lot of help from others on the Leafs team on learning to adapt at a young age, including head coach Randy Carlyle and having Dion Phaneuf as his mentor.

“He (Dion) has really taken me under his wing and tried to teach me a lot about the league and how it all works. I think he has done a great job. All the guys really like him and he has really made a point of trying to help me out and try to teach me the ways,” said Rielly. “I have a great coach here in Randy Carlyle, who played when he was a young guy. He was an offensive-defenceman, so he has helped me a lot.”

Not only is it a big step to go from junior hockey, where Rielly never played a full season, to playing against the world’s top players, but when he was drafted fifth overall to the Leafs, the scrutiny that came with that was overwhelming for the soft-spoken defenceman.

“It has been tough. I always really enjoyed playing in Moose Jaw. I had a great time there,” he said. “When you go to Toronto and the cameras are always around and there are always people around after practice asking you questions, it is a pretty big change.

“I think you just have to deal with it and you can’t worry about it too much, you have to cope with it and that is just an aspect of playing in Toronto. I think all the players here really enjoy playing in Toronto and you have to handle once in a while, you have to do that.”

On Monday evening, Rielly had one assist in a 2-1 Leaf loss to Columbus in NHL action.

Follow me on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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