Given how far Morgan Rielly has come — he’s having one of the best season of his profession — the query turns into, how a lot better additional can he go?
“A good distance,” Rielly says.
With all of the speak of the large free agent defencemen on the horizon — Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson amongst them — Rielly is reworking right into a extra offensive-minded blueliner and extra in tune with what is taken into account a real No. 1 defenceman.
“He’s actually taken off, had a great begin to the season,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock says. “He’s our man again there on the defensive facet of issues, our chief again on the defensive facet. Makes it so much simpler for our forwards.”
A high-scoring blueliner in junior, Rielly parked his offensive recreation below coach Babcock to decide to the defensive facet. In Babcock’s first two years as Leafs coach, Rielly performed the hardest minutes in opposition to the hardest opponents, whereas the likes of Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev bought the glory minutes on the ability play.
“I simply needed to do what the coach and what the staff wanted,” Rielly says. “When Babs bought right here, we had conversations about attempting to get higher defensively, grow to be extra of a well-rounded participant. At the moment, it’s crucial factor. That’s what helped the staff.
“Now, issues modified and also you develop as a participant and get higher. You wish to add property to your recreation. That’s the one factor, do the one factor the coach asks you to do, do it to one of the best of your capacity, when you add that and get higher at it, you wish to add to your recreation and get higher.”
That’s how Babcock noticed it, too.
“You’ve bought to be taught to play in opposition to one of the best for those who’re going to be a great participant and be vital,” Babcock says. “My first precedence was to get him to be able to be accountable defensively.
“You’re going to get all of your offence for those who’ve bought talent. Learn to play with out it, then you will have it.”
In Babcock’s first 12 months as Leafs coach, Rielly averaged 2:21 of short-handed time on ice and 1:49 of energy play time. Final 12 months, Rielly averaged 2:22 short-handed and zero:58 with the person benefit. This 12 months, Rielly’s short-handed time on ice is all the way down to 1:25, whereas his energy play time is as much as 2:14.
“It’s good, it’s good to get on the market, it’s enjoyable,” Rielly says of his energy play time. “You wish to play offensively. You wish to assist the staff. That’s once you get pleasure from being on the market, having the puck on the stick a bit extra.”
In fact, it has additionally helped that Rielly has performed with Ron Hainsey. Any time Babcock is requested about Rielly’s development or significance, the coach factors a finger at Hainsey in a lot the identical approach he factors at Zach Hyman when speaking about Auston Matthews’ success.
“Ron Hainsey is a man who will get him (Rielly) settled down,” Babcock says. “Rielly is a skater. When he will get in bother, he’s skating throughout. The online’s proper there. Stand proper there they usually’re going to return to you. It’s like something, you get roasted a couple of occasions, you be taught. Expertise makes you higher.”
Rielly is grateful that he has Hainsey to depend on.
“He’s been nice,” Rielly says of Hainsey. “We as gamers knew what we had been getting with him. He’s been round a very long time. He’s constructed up an awesome fame for himself. An impressive defenceman and a pacesetter.
“As for me taking part in with him, we’ve helped each other get higher. Whenever you play with a associate like him, who’s as secure as companions get, it provides you extra confidence and makes you extra snug.”
Rielly’s factors per recreation is at zero.64 (18 factors in 28 video games), the best of his profession. He’s on observe for 52 factors, which might simply eclipse the 56 he set in 2015-16, the 12 months he signed six-year, $30-million (U.S.) extension, which might transform an actual discount for the Maple Leafs.
In all, 38 defencemen have the next cap hit than Rielly’s $5 million this 12 months.
Prime notch blueliners reminiscent of Doughty and Karlsson can be offers round not less than $10 million yearly once they grow to be free brokers in the summertime of 2019 when Rielly hits the midpoint of his deal.