(Story courtesy Marc Smith, discovermoosejaw.com) Any time Morgan Rielly steps on the ice, all the eyes in the rink tend to lock on him, but during the home opener last Friday, he was being watched especially close by his new boss, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke.
Burke was in town to check up on the team’s fifth overall pick as Rielly kicks off his third junior hockey season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and he says the Leafs will be keeping an eye on their top prospect this season.
“We have three player development guys and they’re going to be in here a lot. We’ve got Jim Hughes, we’ve got Steve Staios — who just joined us after a 16 year NHL career — and we’ve got Bobby Carpenter, so these are all guys who are going to be in Moose Jaw, or catching Morgan on the road,” explained Burke. “If we’re not playing, I intend to be in here a fair amount to see him play. We invest a lot in player development.”
Burke sees Rielly as a steal as the fifth overall pick and says it isn’t a matter of if, but when he’ll be in the NHL, “I’m not sure he needs anything but time. This is a guy in my mind that there is no question he’s going to play (in the NHL) and his prospect camp with us was so strong that I think our coach was thinking he might be ready to play this year.”
The NHL lockout changed those plans, but Burke says he’s comfortable that Rielly will continue to develop this season with the Warriors, “It was part of the discussion we had when we were talking about drafting Morgan, is he in a good program? Yes, Moose Jaw is a good program. Is this the right coach to develop him? Yes.
“I have a great deal of respect for Mike (Stothers). This is a guy that I watched turn Bobby Ryan into a hockey player in Owen Sound. I think he’s an excellent coach, I think he teaches a professional style and a professional approach to the game in the weight room and conditioning and nutrition. I think when you get a kid that played for Mike Stothers; you get a kid who’s going to be ready.”
As for what Burke likes about Rielly, he says the blue print is there for a very successful NHL player, “His character is very important to us. He’s an intelligent hockey, he has a really high hockey IQ, he has a high IQ off the ice, he’s coachable, he listens, he’s a good teammate, he’s a leader, and these are all things that are important to us.
“This guy has the whole package. He can skate, he makes intelligent decisions, he makes safe decisions, he’s good offensively, he’s good defensively, and he plays in every situation, so I think it’s just going to take time.”
Any Warrior fan can tell you about Rielly’s vision on the ice and Burke says that is one of the things that really stand out to him when he watches Rielly play, “I’ve had some great defenceman play for me, I had Scott Neidemeyer and Chris Pronger, and they always viewed an outlet pass as their first obligation. They move the puck and then get open, you only lug the puck when you don’t have options, and that’s what Morgan does. If he’s got an option, he moves the puck and then moves up the ice and tries to get it back. That’s key to us because that’s a guy who’s unselfish.”
Rielly put on a good show for Burke in the home opener, picking up an assist in the Warriors’ 4-3 overtime win over the Broncos. He also scored the Warriors’ only goal in a 7-1 loss to the Broncos the next night.
The Warriors are practicing at Mosaic Place this week as they get set to head to Prince Albert on Friday for their first meeting of the season with the Raiders. They’ll be back home on Saturday to host the Brandon Wheat Kings.