TORONTO — Morgan Rielly isn’t focused much on points these days, but on Friday night he showed off his scoring touch.
Plugged into match-up duties since the start of last season for the Mike Babcock-led Toronto Maple Leafs, points and big-time offensive production have been pushed into the background for the 22 year old. Against the Flyers though, Rielly burst out with a career-high four points, including his first goal this season in a 6-3 Toronto win.
“I’ve really not been thinking about that at all,” Rielly said of point production. “I’ve just been trying to play my role which is matchups. I haven’t really been thinking about points or the power play … When it comes to that kind of stuff you just want to win the game, you just want to do whatever you can to help the team. It’s not about how many (points) you had at the end of the night or the end of the year.”
Rielly led all Leaf defenders with a career-high 36 points last season, again topping the group with 10 points in 14 games thus far in his fourth NHL season. His three assists against Philadelphia also established a new personal career-best.
These are heavy responsibilities for a player with exactly 250 games of NHL experience, but Babcock surely has the long term in mind. He’s likely convinced that if Rielly can learn to defend against the very best the NHL has to offer as a young player, both he and the Leafs will be better off in time.
Toronto’s coach continues to limit Rielly’s power-play time, mirroring his use of the defenceman for much of last season. Rielly has garnered just over 10 minutes total with the man advantage (fourth on the Leafs defence), a big chunk of that (3:25) coming against the Flyers. Rielly scored his first goal of the season while on the power play (five-on-three advantage), dodging a Philadelphia penalty killer before whipping a shot past Steve Mason.
He notched his trio of assists on Nazem Kadri’s seventh goal this year, Martin Marincin’s first as well as the fifth of the young season for 19-year-old Mitch Marner. Marner’s goal capped a wild third period rally for Toronto, which included four unanswered goals.
Even with his hearty defensive responsibilities Rielly still produced 27 even-strength points last year, tied for the 15th-best mark among all NHL defenders. That placed him in the same class as Ryan Suter (28), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (28), Aaron Ekblad (27), P.K. Subban (26), and Drew Doughty (25).
He’s trending even higher so far this year, tied for third at his position with eight even-strength points. The only defenders with more thus far are Brent Burns (10) and Duncan Keith (9).
In addition to his notable responsibilities on the ice, Babcock also designated Rielly as the youngest of the Leafs four alternate captains.
“Well I think he’s a big part of the next wave,” Babcock said of the move on Friday morning. “I think he’s a real good kid with tons of energy.”
Racking up 54 points over 60 games in his last season for the Warriors, Rielly says he’s had to slightly adjust his scope with the current duties he’s been assigned as a Leaf.
“But it’s one that I’ve welcomed and tried to embrace,” he said. “The only way you’re going to be good at it is if you embrace it and you try to improve at it.’