Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammates in Pittsburgh, on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

The questions have become an annual rite of passage for young Toronto Maple Leafs players, especially those coming off a strong rookie season.

Luke Schenn faced them in 2009.

Jake Gardiner got them in 2012.

Story continues below advertisement

And, this season, it's Morgan Rielly's turn.

But he would like this idea of a "sophomore slump" being floated his way to stop. As soon as possible, preferably.

"I'm trying to avoid it and not think about it," Rielly said. "But with you guys asking me every day, it's tough sometimes … I'm not worried about it."

The good news when it comes to Rielly, the 20-year-old defenceman from West Vancouver, is the questions are coming with a caveat. Nine games in, "slumping" is hardly how you'd describe his game, especially after what was perhaps his best one in the NHL yet in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

The Sabres were a limp opponent, but that allowed coach Randy Carlyle to play Rielly more than ever, giving him the second most minutes of his career (22 minutes, 27 seconds).

In response, Rielly rang up two assists – including a beauty cross-crease pass on James van Riemsdyk's goal – and was all over the puck generally, generating nine shot attempts.

That propensity to shoot has been Rielly's biggest shift from a year ago. The coaches want him putting more pucks on the net, and he has responded in dramatic fashion, with 2.8 shots a game compared to 1.3 in his rookie year despite similar ice time.

Story continues below advertisement

Even more impressively, Rielly leads all NHL defencemen in generating shot attempts, with 21.6 per 60 minutes at even strength, meaning he's getting a look at the net roughly every 2.5 minutes he's on the ice.

He's winding up more frequently than not only every Leafs defenceman but every Leaf, including shot demon Phil Kessel, something that's helping drive Toronto to respectable totals on the shot clock most nights.

Entering Friday's game against the injury-plagued Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Leafs have been outshot, but only by one: 281-280.

"I told myself this year that I would shoot more," Rielly said. "I think I've been able to do that so far, but I think I can keep creating opportunities for my teammates by putting the puck on net."

There are whole host of things that are going into Rielly – a scoring star in junior in Moose Jaw – being more involved in the offence. The coaching staff is giving him primarily offensive minutes, including the most starts to shifts in the offensive zone on the team, which helps drive shot production.

He's also been able to play his natural side of the ice more often and has rotated between only two partners – Jake Gardiner and Roman Polak – instead of the revolving door of blueliners he had a year ago.

Story continues below advertisement

In addition, Rielly admits to being more confident overall, with nothing left to surprise him in the NHL.

Well, almost nothing.

"We've got a few jerseys on the ice," he said. "That's been a surprise. Other than that, no."

For his part, Carlyle said the coaching staff is trying not to put too much pressure on Rielly. In addition to the favourable zone starts, he hasn't faced other team's top lines and has settled into the No. 4 or 5 spot on the blueline in terms of minutes.

Carlyle said that two things that are allowing Rielly to excel in the NHL at a young age are his skating and his conditioning, noting that while he's not tall at a little under six feet, he weighs in at about 215 pounds of mostly muscle.

Rielly's friends, meanwhile, marvel at his strength in the gym.

Story continues below advertisement

"Oh yeah," said teammate Mike Santorelli, who trains with him in B.C. every off-season. "He outlifts all of us. His power cleans are pretty impressive. He cleans a lot of weight. His jumps are pretty good as well. He's powerful."

"He's a big solid kid," Carlyle added.

As for all those shots so far, the coach has liked what he's seen.

"It's the comfort zone," Carlyle said. "That's always one of the things."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies