At this point in time, it is probably fair to call Morgan Rielly the most hyped Leafs prospect since Wendel Clark. I don’t know whether or not that’s fair, but with great hype comes great expectations.
To this point, Rielly hasn’t done anything to really quash the excitement that is building for him. He’s scored electric goals, he’s played well for Canada in the past, and now he’s on the World Juniors team.
In essence, Rielly is following the path of many elite defensemen before him. With that in mind, I collected some stats on how players he’s been compared to have performed in this tournament. Hopefully, it will serve as some sort of barometer on what to expect from the young Leafs prospect.[table "70" not found /]
- Brian Leetch was named to the First All-Star Team in 1987.
- Brian Campbell was named a first team all-star for the tournament.
- Dion Phaneuf was a first team all-star both years, and named the outstanding defenseman of the tournament.
- Side note: Phaneuf’s World Juniors along with his first three NHL seasons of 49, 50 and 60 points respectively was absolutely ridiculous.
- Kris Letang was captain and a tournament all-star of the 2007 tournament.
- Drew Doughty was named a tournament all-star, and given the Directorate Award for Best D-man.
- Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of this, but some of you may remember Drew Doughty getting beat badly one-on-one by a Swedish player with under 10 seconds left in a 3-3 round robin game which resulted in Canada losing 4-3. Just goes to show you even the best have their weak moments.
- Erik Karlsson was a tournament all-star and named the tournament’s best D-man. He led his team in scoring and was tied with PK Subban for most points by a defenseman.
- Jake Gardiner was not named to or awarded anything. He did, however, win a gold medal.
If the first game was any indication, Morgan Rielly will be in tough to match these accomplishments. Yes, he notched an assist (which he doesn’t appear to have been officially credited for), but he was seeing second unit power play time, no PK time and was on Canada’s third pairing. How you go from being on the top pairing in exhibition games to that, I do not know, but it is what it is.
The saving grace is they’ve only played the first game of the tournament thus far, and by all accounts Rielly appears to be superior to many of the D-men that played ahead of him. But, unless he receives the necessary ice time under Steve Spott moving forward, he isn’t going to flourish.
Furthermore, this is a tournament dominated by 19 year olds, and Morgan is only 18. While one year may not seem like a big deal, in this tournament clearly it is. Predictably, the three players charted above who played more than one year in the WJC all had their worst point totals in their first year. With that, you need to take Rielly’s point totals with a grain of salt.
We will continue to track Rielly’s progress as the tournament moves forward. While we’ve created some sort of benchmark –and it’s a ridiculously high one at that – to judge him by, it is important to note that this tournament will not make or break him.
Regardless of what happens during the WJCs, he’s still an excellent prospect. But, it would be nice to see him excel here. Especially since he’s playing for a terrible Moose Jaw team that is nowhere near contention this season and apparently won’t trade him.
I found a few old links that are worth the read and keep things in perspective:
- In which Dion Phaneuf’s head coach Brent Sutter compares him to Scott Stevens.
- In which Jake Gardiner’s college head coach says “if he makes the NHL” and thinks he won’t be a top pairing PPQB.
- In which Morgan Rielly’s current junior head coach compares him to Brian Leetch.
On Saturday, I took in the Marlies 4-2 win against St. John’s with McKeen’s Hockey pro scouting coordinator Gus Katsaros. First off, he’s an excellent hockey guy who you should follow on Twitter @KatsHockey, if you aren’t already. More relevant to this piece, we discussed numerous Marlies and Leafs-related matters that I’ll go over here as points of discussion and analysis.
It’s worth noting that, when it comes to the game itself, it wasn’t the greatest. The Marlies and IceCaps both played the night before, and each team was noticeably tired. On a good day, St John’s isn’t the most exciting team to watch as there really isn’t much talent there – the IceCaps two leading scorers are both D-men who have 17 and 16 points respectively. Add in the fact that Alex Burmistrov wasn’t playing on top of the aforementioned note of both teams looking tired, and well, you can imagine what kind of game it was.
The Marlies are simply a much better team than the IceCaps, and even though they didn’t play their ‘A’ game, they took care of business. That’s what good teams do.
Anyways, here are some talking points from recent Marlies games I’ve taken in:
- It’s always interesting watching Joe Colborne. He’s so big, and he has a noticeably high skill level considering his size, plus he can move more than adequately. In the IceCaps game, he made two high end passes; the first was on a 3 on 3 rush, where Colborne brought the puck below the hash marks, both forwards charged the net and were guarded accordingly, and he recognized Korbinian Holzer trailing the play and hit him for a pass that allowed the defender to walk in for a semi-breakaway. Holzer’s shot didn’t hit the net. Then in the third period, Colborne was at the top of the circle on a power play and hit a streaking Mike Kostka backdoor, but he wasn’t able to convert. If you were to go through a bunch of game tape on Colborne for the year, you would obviously see things he needs to improve, but you would also see quite a few scoring opportunities he’s created that haven’t been buried. In this game alone, there were two prime scoring chances he created that at the end of the day went undetected.
- Gus actually charted out on-ice goals performance here. At the time of that piece, he had only been on for seven goals against, while the team average was 14. So in essence, he’s not on for many goals against, and he’s been creating. I’m not going to defend Colborne to the bitter end – I’m not even sure if I’m defending him right now – as he only has 9 points in 25 games in a year where he should be doing much better. He’s stopped going to the dirty areas, he has only 33 shots on net for the year, and he’s turning 23 in January. But, there are little positives that can be gleaned from his game. Maybe the chances he creates start getting buried in the second half? That could quickly change the current perception of him.
- One more note on Colborne. There was an instance in the second period where he attempted to cut in and shoot the puck off the rush, but a defender got his stick on it and deflected the shot wide. It was a pretty nondescript play, but I thought about it a lot. In pretty well any sport, most people know that competing against a guy that is bigger than you is exponentially more difficult because they can leverage their body and create space for themselves that makes it nearly impossible for someone with a smaller body to guard them. Joe Colborne is listed at 6’5, and there just aren’t many players bigger than him out there. So when you think of him trying to cut in and simply get a shot on net, it should be relatively easy for him. At 6’5, with his reach and skill, in the AHL, he should be able to effortlessly put pucks on net pretty well whenever he wants, yet he was guarded with ease. This brings me back to Poulin’s interview with Lindy’s Leafs Magazine over the summer in which he told us that Colborne grew another inch over the summer. In that sense, he’s still very much a kid growing into his own body and learning how to use it. Now, how long you can stay patient with a kid and hope that he puts it altogether, I don’t know. But there’s enough there to make you want to wait at least a little longer. As mentioned, the pieces are there, he’s creating chances and isn’t scored on very often. You’ve got yourself a player if he could ever learn how to leverage his body, control the puck, and fend off defenders in the dirty areas of the ice. It’s just a matter of how long the Leafs will be patient with him now, and obviously if Colborne can start producing results.
- This is a bit of good timing, as Kyle Cicerella just wrote an excellent piece on Abbott learning from Aucoin. I was going to comment on the fact that it’s pretty clear the Leafs are playing Abbott with Aucoin because, with Kadri out, nobody else up front can really think the game the way Abbott does. He’s 5’9, so he obviously isn’t very big, he’s not the fastest skater, nor does he have the best shot, but he thinks the game at a very high level. In fact, during the IceCaps game, in the first period, Abbott whipped a pass to Aucoin in the slot, and he wasn’t ready for it. Abbott is fighting an uphill battle because 5’9 undrafted forwards don’t get very many chances to stick in the NHL, but he’s throwing up a point per game now in his first AHL season, and is seeing consistent power play time at the moment. If he’s able to keep up his point totals, Abbott is going to force the Leafs to eventually take a look at him at the NHL level. But it’s only been 12 games, and it’s very hard to predict how smaller players will react to playing against NHLers. At the very least, he is getting everyone’s attention.
- During the IceCaps game, Gus pointed out an excellent play in which D’Amigo knew he was going to get flattened, but did so in order to make a play to advance the puck. This was something that I noted during the Marlies playoff run last year as he is a guy who will sacrifice his body to make plays. D’Amigo’s inconsistent game to game, but he’s been playing on the Marlies shutdown line for most of the year and has been killing penalties, which is what the Leafs will want him to do. You kind of wish D’Amigo was bigger than 5’11, but he’s a solid and bulky 210+ pounds and will get dirty. Of the many unfortunate effects of the lockout, one is that the Leafs can’t take a look at a guy like D’Amigo at the NHL level. Maybe he only would have played five games, but at least there would have been something to gauge him on at that level. Otherwise, are the Leafs going to feel confident throwing a rookie in on their shutdown line to play against the NHL’s elite night-in and night-out for 82 games come next year? That’s risky, to say the least.
- One of D’Amigo’s shutdown line mates, Will Acton, should be getting a lot more attention than he currently is. Acton has been playing against other teams top lines all season more or less. Meaning, when Rochester comes to town, he’s the one who lines up against Marcus Foligno, when it’s Grand Rapids, he plays against Gustav Nyquist, and so on. That right there speaks to the responsibility he’s being trusted with on a team that is expected to compete for a championship again this year. Acton’s 6’2, he finishes all of his checks, drops the gloves on occasion and can be depended on for a regular shift. Yes, the Leafs have Steckel and McClement as their 3C and 4C, but neither of them offer the physicality Acton does, plus Acton can play wing. Simply put, he plays Randy Carlyle hockey, and there aren’t many players on the Leafs or Marlies you can honestly say that about. Acton may or may not be playing himself into a spot on the Leafs, but he is playing himself into the conversation, and that’s a feat in itself. This is a kid whom many thought was signed because of his last name. Now he’s becoming an important player on a good Marlies team.
I’m going to cut off the player notes here. I’ll be reading the comments if anyone wants to discuss other players there. I didn’t want to write too much and overwhelm.
On a more important note, I hope everyone has an excellent holiday and/or Merry Christmas.
Welcome back, Josh Leivo.
After missing time with a concussion, Leivo returned to the Sudbury Wolves lineup last week and he did so with a vengeance. The Wolves had 3 games in 3 nights this weekend and Leivo put up 2 goals and 5 assists. Leivo now has 34 points in 29 games on a pretty weak Sudbury team.
Leivo is cut from the powerforward cloth and unlike the Leafs‘ other powerforward prospect, Tyler Biggs, Leivo will play with the puck on his stick. My opinion on Leivo would be that his ceiling is higher than Biggs’ but that he’s also not as safe of a prospect. Leivo does more on Sudbury than Biggs does in Oshawa largely because he has to, but Biggs does the little things better than Leivo at this stage. It will be fun to continue comparing these two as their careers are both likely move in tandem to the professional ranks to start next season.
Matt Finn, also recently back from some time out of the lineup, put up a pair of powerplay goals in two games this weekend. I’ve often raved about Finn’s play on the man-advantage and I love being vindicated so allow me this sentence-long self-congratulation. Finn now has an impressive 11 goals in 28 games from the point in his draft+1 season. Lots to get excited about with this youngster.
From vindication to contradiction, Connor Brown continues throwing points on the board in handfuls. Brown is now 12th in OHL scoring in his draft+1 season and has more points than any of the Leafs other CHL skaters. Brown’s 43 points in 35 games are certainly something to get excited about (he added 5 points in 3 games this weekend). I’m stubbornly standing by my assessment that Brown is most likely a Junior Star more than an actual noteworthy prospect but if he’s meaningfully over a point-per-game by year’s end then he may just have me eating my words.
Morgan Rielly, Tyler Biggs, and Garret Sparks have all left their Junior teams to prepare for the World Juniors. The tournament should be especially fun this year with all the baby Leafs involved — get your PVRs ready!
Maple Leafs Prospect Stats
|Joe Colborne||22||AHL - Marlies||Forward||22||1||6||7|
|Nazem Kadri||21||AHL - Marlies||Forward||24||7||17||24|
|Carter Ashton||21||AHL - Marlies||Forward||24||5||3||8|
|Jerry D'Amigo||21||AHL - Marlies||Forward||21||3||4||7|
|Nicolas Deschamps||22||AHL - Marlies||Forward||22||5||2||7|
|Greg McKegg||20||AHL - Marlies||Forward||18||3||3||6|
|Leo Komarov||25||AHL - Marlies|
KHL - Dynamo
|Kenny Ryan||21||AHL - Marlies||Forward||11||3||3||6|
|Brad Ross||20||AHL - Marlies||Forward||8||1||0||1|
|Matt Frattin||24||AHL - Marlies||Forward||12||8||4||12|
|Jamie Devane||22||AHL - Marlies||Forward||0||0||0||0|
|Spencer Abbott||24||AHL - Marlies||Forward||10||1||8||9|
|Jesse Blacker||21||AHL - Marlies||Defenceman||17||0||2||2|
|Jake Gardiner||22||AHL - Marlies||Defenceman||22||9||8||17|
|Korbinian Holzer||24||AHL - Marlies||Defenceman||22||1||5||6|
|Simon Gysbers||25||AHL - Marlies||Defenceman||13||1||5||6|
|Tyler Brenner||24||ECHL - Bakersfield||Forward||20||6||7||13|
|Sam Carrick||20||ECHL - Idaho||Forward||20||5||4||9|
|Josh Leivo||19||OHL - Sudbury||Forward||29||15||19||34|
|Tyler Biggs (WJC)||19||OHL - Oshawa||Forward||34||15||18||33|
|Connor Brown||18||OHL - Erie||Forward||35||17||26||43|
|Ryan Rupert||18||OHL - London||Forward||25||3||14||17|
|David Broll||19||OHL - Sault Ste. Marie||Forward||35||11||15||26|
|Stuart Percy||19||OHL - Mississauga||Defenceman||33||8||12||20|
|Matt Finn||18||OHL - Guelph||Defenceman||28||11||12||23|
|Morgan Rielly (WJC)||18||WHL - Moose Jaw||Defenceman||33||7||21||28|
|Tony Cameranesi||19||WCHA - Minnesota Duluth||Forward||18||8||11||19|
|Dominic Toninato||18||USHL - Fargo||Forward||26||10||18||28|
|Eric Knodel||22||NCAA - New Hampshire||Defenceman||14||4||2||6|
|Dennis Robertson||21||ECAC - Brown||Defenceman||12||1||7||8|
|Max Everson*||19||ECAC - Harvard||Defenceman||7||0||2||2|
|Petter Granberg (IR)||20||SEL - Skellefteå||Defenceman||2||0||0||0|
|Tom Nilsson (WJC)||19||Allsvenskan - Mora|
Sweden U20 - International
|Viktor Loov||19||Allsvenskan - Södertälje||Defenceman||18||1||1||2|
IR = injured
*Player Note: Max Everson has been kicked off the Harvard hockey team for this season, allegedly due to an academic scandal. He will head to the USHL at the end of the semester, and return to Harvard next fall.
|B. Scrivens||26||AHL - Marlies||16||9||7||1||.907||2.50|
|J. Rynnas||25||AHL - Marlies||5||4||0||1||.950||1.55|
|M. Owuya||23||AHL - Marlies|
ECHL - Las Vegas
|G. Sparks||19||OHL - Guelph||33||18||8||4||.917||2.75|
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of chatting with Maple Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting for an upcoming article in the Lindy’s Sports Maple Leafs Annual magazine. We touched a variety of topics including the progression of certain top prospects, drafting philosophy and the general inner workings of hockey management. Which prospect is his pick for breakout player of the year (he picked Jake Gardiner in last year’s annual)? How does a GM affect drafting philosophy? Where did the organization have Morgan Reilly ranked on draft day? Guess you’ll just have to wait to find out.
In the meantime, we also went through a few reader questions kindly submitted by the MLHS community. Courtesy of the fine folks at Lindy’s Sports, I am able to provide you all with a short snippet as a preview of a very exciting fall project. Everything has gone to print and the entire MLHS team was thrilled to be involved. Details regarding the magazine release and where to snag yourself a copy will be available in the coming weeks. Enjoy!
Let’s finish off with some reader questions. Young players can often be so hit and miss and sometimes, the most you can do is try to hit more than you miss. During your years involved with amateur scouting, which selection are you most proud of?
Hmm that’s a bit of a funny question because we often talk about the scouting team as a plurality. We’re all proud of those selections together as an entire staff. There are lots of our kids playing in the NHL right now, though not necessarily all for the Maple Leafs. Our job is simply to create assets and make the General Manager’s job as easy as possible. It’s tough to single out any one player because these are all kids with so much character and work ethic. We’re just so proud of all of them and it’s a treat to watch them grow.
Is the amateur scouting team consulted in trade discussions, for example to comment on the value of a particular draft selection or recent draftee?
Absolutely we’re involved. There is an ongoing discussion between the scouting team and the upper management where a free flow of information is exchanged. I have daily conversations with Dave Poulin and we are certainly involved when discussions involve amateur players or if we had seen junior players that are pieces of a potential trade. We also let them know whether a draft is strong or not so strong and how tightly we’d like to hang onto a particular draft selection.
On that note, were you involved in the James Van Riesmdyk – Luke Schenn trade talks? You were on board when JVR was selected 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL draft. What did you think of him then?
For a player like Van Riemsdyk, that’s moreso up the alley of the pro scouting team, but they did ask us for our opinion. We liked James as a player in his draft year and we actually had him rated quite highly as well. He’s a great big guy with loads of potential. I was very impressed with him at the Under-18 tournament. He’s a kid who will go into traffic. He’s not a mean guy and he’s not a fighter, but he will drive the net and finish in tight.
How far ahead do you scout? Does a player typically jump on your radar as a first year junior player or do you scout the lower levels of hockey as well?
It depends on the player. It’s tough to go all the way back to bantam for everyone but we will get out and see the top guys play in a big tournament. We’ll occasionally get a sense of the minor midget guys but usually we’re looking at the underage junior players. It’s tough to get too excited about the younger teenagers because puberty can really change things.
Based on your travels, what is the most enjoyable city to take in a hockey game? (Outside of Toronto of course)
Ha-ha outside of Toronto? Alright, I guess I can answer that one…Hmm a number of places come to mind but there really is no place like home. That’s London for me. It’s a great city, always an exciting team and a wonderful atmosphere. Watch a hockey game and then come home for dinner. That’s the dream.
Last question Dave. What is the funniest or most memorable name you’ve ever come across when scouting?
Ha-ha oh man, where are you getting these? Well I’ve gotta say that the funniest names are usually Finnish. They’re just so long and almost impossible to pronounce. No name really jumps to mind but this does remind me of a funny story. One time at a tier 2 all-star game, I remember see these kids lining up for the opening faceoff. On one side, there was a left winger named Trevino and on the other, there was a right winger named Lee. So as they were getting ready to drop the puck, it dawned on me that I was staring at the name Lee Trevino (popular Mexican golfer). I laughed…but I don’t think anybody else did.