Toronto Maple Leafs Roundtable: Is Morgan Rielly A #1 Defender?

morgan rielly

Sep 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) clears the puck under pressure from Team Russia forward Evgeni Malkin (71) during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs seem to have a few top-four defenders, even if one of them is forced to play with Roman Polak, but do they have a number one?

In this week’s roundtable we discuss Toronto Maple Leafs defender Morgan Rielly and where he stands.

Q: Is Morgan Rielly going to be a #1 defender for the Toronto Maple Leafs, or are expectations simply too high?

There’s a general consensus on the answer, so scroll through the take’s and let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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Apr 9, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) skates with the puck during the first period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Chiasson

Last year could have been Morgan Rielly’s breakout year, and this one is, again, supposed to be a breakout year.

This is Rielly’s fourth season in the NHL and even though he’s only 22 years old I think the expectations for him as a true #1 defender are lofty and out of reach.

He’s only considered the Leafs number one right now because of popular opinion, which doesn’t legitimize the title.

I think Rielly’s destiny is more of a number two defender who compliments a true number one, or a very good number three defender. Neither of those options are bad ones.

It’s not a negative take on the Leafs blueliner, it’s just where we’re at right now.

Expectations are generated and are usually higher than they should be in Leafs Nation, and that’s not Rielly’s fault. In a similar scenario outline, Dion Phaneuf was supposed to be a number one simply because the Leafs had no one better and paid him $7M per season. Just because you want someone to be something doesn’t mean he is – and it’s not the players fault.

Even as a #2 or #3, Rielly’s contract and value to the team are still very high. With how Mike Babcock wants to use Rielly – a less offensively explosive direction – he may be better suited for a role that isn’t quite prime-time.

That being said, unfortunately, until the Leafs can find the number one defender they seek it’s going to be Rielly shouldering the load.

Feb 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) goes to the net with the puck as New York Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin (62) chases him at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) goes to the net with the puck as New York Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin (62) chases him at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Bell

Well, the kid is 22 years old, 6’1, and weighs 215 lb. So far into the 2016/2017 season, he has five points – all due to assists. His career total to date is 97 points and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

During the World Cup of Hockey, he displayed incredible skills and talent by playing offensively and helping to keep the puck in the other teams end even getting a goal for himself. The fact that he’s been able to do all of this in a matter of three years is pretty impressive.

But is he really the top defense man right now? The answer is no. Now, the only reason he isn’t is because of another player by the name of Jake Gardiner.

Say what you will, but Gardiner is just flat out better at this point in time. So far into the season, he has managed to earn six points thanks to five assists and a goal.

He’s 6’2, 200 lb, and is still fairly young at 26 years old. Throw in the fact that he’s an experienced veteran, and you have yourself a top notch defensive player. However, if you were to ask me the same question in a year or two, my answer would be different.

With recent rumors of trades and next years’ Las Vegas team entering the fold, it’s only a matter of time before Gardiner ends up playing for another team.

This is when Rielly is really going to shine. So long as he doesn’t end up on a line with Roman Polak or Matt Hunwick, he should finally be able to step up to his calling as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top defence man.

So are expectations set too high? Well, no. Fans are allowed to have a favorite, and the numbers don’t lie. The fact of the matter is that Morgan Rielly is well on his way to becoming the player everyone thinks he can be.

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Nov 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Lightning 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

John Krpan

I had never thought Morgan Rielly was a legimate #1 defensmen. That is until I saw the Worlds this year and saw him look dominate.

It led me to believe that he was about to break out this season and surprise me by being a true #1. But then, nine games into the season, I could not be more certain that my thinking over the years has been correct.

Morgan Rielly can be a great #2.

In the World Cup he looked great, but what I wasn’t thinking about at the time was that he was playing with Ekblad and Parayko, two players that made him look better than he was.

That’s not to say Rielly didn’t play great, because he did, but he played great because he was the #2 guy.  ‎

The Maple Leafs need an Ekblad, a Doughty, a Hedman, a…dare I say it… a Noah Hanifin.  When the Toronto Maple Leafs win their next Stanley Cup, it be because we found a #1 defender not named Morgan Rielly.  

Oct 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) falls while skating with the puck against the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre. The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) falls while skating with the puck against the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre. The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Razo

Expectations are really too high and, through these first ten games, I have seen glimpses of #1 defenseman potential.

Then I see mistakes and Morgan Rielly trying to do too much to try and make up for the lack of talent on the blue line.

Every Maple Leafs fan wants Rielly to become our Duncan Keith in this rebuild which I think he can be and this year is the year for him to prove it, but really gets me upset is the whole “he could be the next captain” talk.

Didn’t we go through this with Luke Schenn? Let Rielly play his game.

If he can develop into a number one defenseman then that’s great. However, at the end of the day, I’ll wait until the end of the season to see if he can be the main guy going forward.

I expect another top five, or top 10, selection in the draft so if Rielly is not suited to be that number one defenseman then they’ll have to look for one in the draft because they won’t go anywhere without one.  

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