Morgan Rielly had 28 points in 65 games with Moose Jaw last season. (Getty Images)
If there’s one early emerging trend for the 2012 draft, it’s the wealth of excellent prospects on defense – particularly those from the Western League. Everett’s Ryan Murray, Red Deer’s Matt Dumba, Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart and Portland’s Derrick Pouliot are all in the mix and right in the thick of that list is Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Rielly has already represented Canada at the under-18s and the Ivan Hlinka tournament this year, while also taking part in the NHL’s Research and Development Camp. To put it in shorthand, he’s done all the elite things elite kids do. He also holds no ill will towards his WHL draft competition.
“I’ve had a chance to play with all of them and they’re all great people,” Rielly said. “It’s cool that we’re all good friends.”
And fortunately for the NHL teams who look to be selecting early on, there’s a wide variety of skills available in the group. While Murray’s all-round excellence puts him at the top right now, Dumba and Rielly aren’t far behind.
“Where Dumba brings explosiveness, Rielly brings fearless playmaking,” said Tyler Boldt, the WHL’s manager of player development and recruitment. “At such a young age, he’s a pretty dynamic and fearless defenseman on the offensive side of the game.”
Stylistically, Boldt evoked the name Scott Niedermayer when describing how Rielly makes an impact and the young Warrior’s maturity under pressure has impressed him.
“He looks very casual when he’s handling the puck,” Boldt said.
As a ‘Dub’ rookie last season, Rielly put up a very respectable 22 assists and 28 points in 65 games for Moose Jaw, a team flush with NHL blueline prospects. Both Dylan McIlrath and Joel Edmundson were high draft picks, but don’t have the same offensive upside Rielly does. That will help the sophomore make the most of his draft year.
“You can expect him to quarterback the power play on a team that could win 40 games this year,” Boldt said.
For Rielly, he simply wants to have a positive impact on a fairly veteran junior team.
“I know I have to prove myself,” he said. “Defensive zone play, it’s a pretty huge part of the game now and that’s the area I want to concentrate on this year.”
Along with the older blueliners on the team, he also has a confidante in center Quinton Howden, a Florida Panthers draft pick who shares an agency, CAA, with Rielly.
“I’m pretty close to ‘Howdy,’ ” Rielly said. “We’ve talked about schooling and the team and the crowds in town.”
While the Warriors are the No. 1 show in Moose Jaw, Rielly has already brought pride to Saskatchewan (though he’s from Vancouver) from his days at the Notre Dame prep school, where he helped the Hounds take the Saskatchewan midget title as well as the national Telus Cup back in 2010. But winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka in Slovakia and the Czech Republic this summer put his name on an even bigger stage.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “Having the chance to play for my country was unreal.”
The only thing left is for folks to get his name right. “Rielly,” though simple, will likely be misspelled numerous times this season, since “Reilly” is much more common. The Warriors D-man has heard a couple stories on why his family put ‘i’ before ‘e’ but isn’t truly sure what the reasoning was. Nonetheless, corrections are a common occurrence.
“At school it even happens,” he said.
Hopefully when Rielly’s name goes up on the NHL’s big board at the 2012 draft – and it will likely be within the first five or 10 picks – the league will have its spellcheckers on standby.
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