Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly skates down the ice during the team's first day of training camp in Toronto on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Rielly is in the NHL, at least for now.Several hours before the Toronto Maple Leafs' deadline to submit their official roster, the 19-year-old took part in practice and could very well be the seventh defencemen when the season opens Tuesday night in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu
TORONTO - Morgan Rielly knew he made the Toronto Maple Leafs when he arrived at Air Canada Centre on Monday morning.
"All my hockey gear was here still," he said. "So it's a good feeling."
The 19-year-old defenceman impressed enough in training camp to earn a spot on the roster to start the season, along with 22-year-old winger Carter Ashton.
"We've stated: you're going to have to have young players in your lineup, and we're no different," coach Randy Carlyle said. "And Carter Ashton has come in and made enough of an impression that he's going to play (Tuesday) night in Montreal."
Rielly's status isn't so certain. He's one of seven Leafs defencemen and could find himself in the press box at Bell Centre instead of on the ice against the Canadiens. But that's all part of the process for a player whose real NHL tryout could last a while longer.
"I haven't proved anything yet," Rielly said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen over the course of the next two or three weeks. I have a lot left to prove. I have a long way to go."
The Leafs' official roster Monday listed 11 active forwards, seven defencemen and two goaltenders, not counting the injured Frazer McLaren and the suspended David Clarkson. But Carlyle made it clear that he will dress 12 forwards and six defencemen for the season opener.
That likely means Frazer will be placed on long-term injured reserve with a broken right pinky finger that has him "still a ways away," according to Carlyle, and that Troy Bodie will be called up to take the spot Clarkson filled during Monday's practice.
Ashton's spot isn't in question.
"I think the guy's earned the opportunity. It's pretty simple," Carlyle said. "I don't think there's any sugar-coating or fluff involved with it: The guy's come out, worked hard, played the game at a pace that he's separated himself in our eyes with his work ethic and his commitment to being on the forecheck."
Ashton is expected to play on the Leafs' fourth line with centre Jay McClement and enforcer Colton Orr. Tyler Bozak is set to centre the first line between James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel, with Nazem Kadri the second line between Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemi and David Bolland the third line between Mason Raymond and most likely Bodie.
On defence, Carl Gunnarsson and captain Dion Phaneuf are expected to start together, with the other pairings being Jake Gardiner with Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser with Cody Franson.
That would mean Rielly is the odd man out, at least for the opener. But he still believes there's a benefit in being around.
"Having a chance to play with pro hockey players is always helpful," Rielly said. "Just to kind of be in this changing room and just kind of chat with the guys and hopefully travel with the team and whatnot will be helpful."
But Rielly probably isn't still in Toronto just to practice. He can play up to nine NHL games before burning a year off his entry-level contract, so there's some time to evaluate him.
"We have a few ideas as far as what our plan is, and obviously with the nine-game scenario that we have, we have some flexibility," Carlyle said. "But the first thing that we're going to consider is, is the player going to help our hockey club and are we helping him by doing what we're doing?"
Carlyle wasn't forthcoming about the Leafs' plans for Rielly, who could be rotated in every other game or every few games as matchups dictate it. The only other place for him to go is back to Moose Jaw of the WHL, because he's not eligible to join the AHL's Toronto Marlies.
But in sending John-Michael Liles, Korbinian Holzer and T.J. Brennan through waivers and to the minors, the team chose to at least give Rielly a shot.
"Dates always bring decisions," Carlyle said. "Obviously we feel strongly that Morgan is a young kid that has shown a lot of potential and has played well in training camp. There's a lot of positives taking place with a young player. We just have to measure if it's going to be productive both for him and for our hockey club for him to play in the NHL this year. It's a difficult decision."
Last week Carlyle called picking a starting goaltender for opening night probably the toughest decision that needed to be made. If the coach had already told James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier who was getting the nod by the time they spoke to reporters, they weren't letting on.
"No clue," Bernier said with a wry smile.
Reimer had a stronger pre-season with a .923 save percentage to Bernier's .891, and is the incumbent. But Bernier is the prized off-season trade acquisition and just happened to grow up outside of Montreal.
Bernier said even he was wondering who would start, while Reimer can draw from the experience of not playing opening night last season and going on to be the starter.
"It's just like life, you look in the big picture," Reimer said. "You want to get that first game, but it's definitely not the end of the world and you have to look at it over the full season."
Reimer and Bernier will have all season to compete for the starting job in goal. For Rielly, the chance to show he belongs is a short one, but he's happy he has it.
"Obviously I trained hard this off-season because I wanted to accomplish the goal to play here this year, so it's pretty good feeling to know that it kind of all paid off," he said. "But it's just a start."
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