By Larry Wigge
Some scouts might have missed seeing Morgan Rielly.
What one scout said about him: "He's like a chess player. He's thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don't see."
What a compliment for a defenseman, who played had 18 points in 18 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors, when he tore his right knee ACL sliding into the goalpost on November 6. He sat for 165 sleepless night worrying whether he could get back to play again. Finally, on April 20, he returned.
"Hearing people explain to me I couldn't play again or I can't play again in a year, I think that's what motivated me even more," explained Rielly. "I kept training hard and it paid off. I never had to deal with that before. But I feel I grew a bit as a person and learned a lot about how to treat your body."
Couldn't, wouldn't and other negatives go out the window when you are talking about the swift skating defenseman wouldn't stop him from being back on the ice ... and it happened in the second round of the playoffs.
Perseverance. Challenge. Obstacle. Were words used to describe Rielly's courage to come back.
The Toronto Maple Leafs through out the mixed scouting report ... and made Rielly the fifth pick in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
GM Brian Burke, in fact, said they had the 6-1, 200-pound native of Vancouver, rated No. 1 in the draft.
"When we researched him, that's what kept coming up -- this kid never viewed the injury as a setback," Burke said. "He viewed it as a challenge. He met that challenge with legendary workouts to rehab this. While he was hurt, he was meeting his team on the road when he could not play. Little things like that showed character. This kid was brought up right. The way he attacked his rehab and recovered was impressive."
What attracted Toronto to Rielly was his pedigree, his entire resume. He captained the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Saskatchewan during the 2009-10 season. He led all SMAAAHL defensemen in scoring with 55 points (18G-37A-55P), was named the team's co-MVP and helped lead the team to a gold medal at the 2010 Canadian National Midget Championship.
In his rookie year at Moose Jaw, Morgan had six goals and 22 assists in 65 game. But he was off to an even more impressive season, when he tore up his knee.
He does everything offensively, defensively at a fast pace like Chicago's Duncan Keith. His ability to breakout of the zone and the speed he manufactures in his first few strides allows him to flat out beat the majority of the league with his quickness. A capable defensive player who leverages smart stick work and body position to coolly separate opponents from the puck.
Everything has always been at a fast pace in his life ... like the spelling of his last name.
"It was a typo," Rielly said, hinting that a government or immigration official must have gotten it wrong many years ago. "But I was taught 'i' before 'e', except after 'c'."
Burke's parents come from County Roscommon and County Mayo. His dad, Andy, was the biggest influence on his career and his hockey hero growing up. His father played in the BCHL for the Surrey Eagles in 1974-75.
"I'll have to talk to him about that name," Burke teased. "Where my family comes from, they spelled it differently. But it didn't hurt that he's Irish."
Aside from the spelling of his last name, Burke gushed about his top prospect.
"We had this player rated first overall. Wouldn't say that if it wasn't true," said Burke. "He's got a high hockey IQ. When his options are multiple ... he always makes the right play.
"He's got a high compete level, makes smart decisions. We're excited. Our scouts are ecstatic."
Transition is important to making him a complete defenseman.
"I'm a two-way defenseman," he said, matter-of-factly. "I like to carry the puck a little bit, but that doesn't mean I give anything up in my own end. I play to win and do whatever it takes to help my team, in whatever way I can."
Perhaps a concern, heeding a limited physical edge or unwillingness to go the extra mile physically, Rielly isn't buying it. In his eyes and others', it's simply a byproduct of staying responsible and utilizing an elite skill-set to maintain such discipline without giving anything up.
"I don't use my stick a whole lot when I'm working one-on-one with my opponent, so I don't get charged with hooking and other obstruction-related penalties," he said. "I like to think I'm pretty quick, too, so I don't have to take them. It's all about staying on the right side of the puck and making sure I'm not putting myself in a position where I'm chasing.
"If there's a ever an instance where a teammate gets hit or something, I'm certainly not going to let up either. But I don't take those useless or lazy penalties."
A lot like Nicklas Lidstrom ...
Rielly is more of a passer than a shooter, but he possesses a quick wrist and snapshot to complement his passing skills. Some have said he mighty be the best passer in the game.
A lot to live up to.
Morgan Rielly proved he was more than a great skater, great passer and all-round prospect -- he could be a game breaker.
Maybe even stepping into the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup this year. Remember, doctors told Rielly that he would never be able to come back after the knee injury.
Are you going to tell him he doesn't have a chance to make it to the NHL right now ....