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2012 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Morgan Rielly

Morgan Rielly, D
Birthplace: West Vancouver, British Colombia, 3/9/94
Bio: 6’0, 190 lbs., L
Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL
Rankings: ISS – 7; CSS – 5 (NA)

The Skinny: Despite a season-stunting ACL injury he suffered in November, defenseman Morgan Rielly is perhaps the best pure puck-mover in the draft and has the poise and creativity to be an offensive star from the blue line in the NHL.

It’s an unfortunate story we’ve seen too many times this year: A talented top prospect loses significant time due to injury. In November, Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw’s dynamic seventeen year-old puck-mover was lost for the all but a few  games of season thanks to an ACL tear.

It’s too bad, especially given the start Rielly had: In eighteen games he had eighteen points, putting him up among the top blueline producers in the CHL, let alone only the draft-eligibles. When he did return (almost miraculously – for one playoff-series), he continued to impress, scoring six points in five games as the Warriors finally fell in the WHL playoffs.

Rielly’s skillset includes excellent mobility, elite playmaking skills and top-notch vision. He can dangle through crowds impressively (certainly for a blueliner) and set-up teammates and score with aplomb. He’s a dynamic offensive threat and one truly capable of racking up points from the point.

The seventeen year-old has a low center of gravity that keeps him balanced while in possession of the puck and is very patient, waiting for the lanes to open up. His pacing is excellent: Backing off defenders with bursts of speed then slowing things down to gain time and space.

Putting the puck on Rielly’s stick in his defensive zone almost ensures a successful clear: The Vancouver native doesn’t buckle under heavy pressure and makes quality passes even when harried effectively by forecheckers. His hockey-sense is extremely well refined and enables him to react to changes in pressure quickly and effectively, finding holes in zones and backing off in the right circumstances.

Of course, as with many defenders of like style, Rielly’s defensive play is often called into question. He’ll often play more as a ‘rover’ than a defenseman, jumping into the attack freely and occasionally leaving his teammates out to dry. His size isn’t ideal and questions about his future mobility (following the ACL tear) haven’t gone away. He needs to build strength and get healthy pre-Combine to assuage these fears and assure himself a position as a top-ten selection.

Still, his defensive game isn’t atrocious (in fact it’s better than most attack-minded defensemen are able to muster at this age). He has an active stick and his solid hockey IQ allows him to read plays effectively and step into lanes and close gaps.

In most years, Rielly’s injury would have probably cost him a five to ten-position slide down the Draft board. However, his early-season successes combined with the numerous other injuries suffered by other top prospects will keep his stock in the top half of the draft. Given the importance of the skillset Rielly possesses in the ‘modern’ NHL, he’ll likely end up somewhere between picks six and ten.

Ideal Fits: Teams looking for that ever-elusive elite puck-moving defenseman: Tampa Bay, Anaheim, New York Islanders, Winnipeg, and Minnesota.

Why Your Team Will Take Him: Because aside from injury concerns, he’s the premier offensive defenseman in this draft class.

Why Your Team Will Pass on Him: Because those injury concerns won’t go away; because he lacks size, because blueliners’ offensive projectability is a crapshoot.

Strengths: Playmaking, Puck-Moving, Mobility, Vision, Offensive Acumen, Poise, Hockey IQ, Stick-Checking

Weaknesses/Concerns: Physicality, Strength, Durability, Size

Projection: First-Pairing Offensive Defenseman (15g, 65p potential)

Predicted 2012 NHL Draft Range: First Round, 4-10

Overall Rank: 8

N.A. Rank: 6

WHL Rank: 3

Defenseman Rank: 3

Canadian National Rank: 3

Bob is the Boston Bruins correspondent for The Hockey Writers and a credentialed member of the Providence Bruins' Media.

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