"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."
--Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald on Morgan Rielly
The top of the 2012 NHL Draft class is marked by two things: a dearth of Canadian forwards and a wealth of Canadian defensemen. Defensemen have comprised about half of The Consensus Top 30 since Octobert, with 10 of them hailing from Canada. Moose Jaw's Morgan Rielly has been near the top of that list the entire time. Rielly started the year in the 6th spot and currently stands 8th with a reputation as the best offensive defenseman available.
To find out more about Rielly, including how he remained a fixture in the top ten for the entire season, even after suffering his ligament tear, I spoke with The Scouting Report's Western Conference Correspondent Dan Lizee about Rielly.
Copper & Blue: In the consensus rankings, there are three defensemen who've separated themsevles - Ryan Murray, Matthew Dumba, Morgan Rielly - then one just in behind them - Jacob Trouba - then a group of three in Griffin Reinhart, Cody Ceci and Matt Finn. Where do you have Morgan Rielly ranked?
Dan Lizee, The Scouting Report: I have Rielly ranked just behind the group of Trouba, Murray and Dumba, but ahead of Reinhart, Ceci and Finn.
C & B: Ryan Murray has been the consensus #1 defenseman for awhile now, but over the last month, a number of names have come up as "better than Murray", including Rielly, Dumba, Trouba, and even Reinhart. Is this a case of picking nits or does Murray have some flaws?
TSR: The questions I have about Murray are 1) his strength and 2) his offensive upside. As it pertains to the Oilers, I have no doubt he'll be able to put up points with the young forwards on the team, to what degree remains to be seen. Puck moving and distribution are his best asset. The problem with Murray is how will he help the Oilers keep the puck out of their own net. Strength is an issue all over the Oilers team, Murray will only add to that issue.
C & B: Of the top defensive prospects, Rielly is the second-youngest after Dumba. In fact, Rielly is five months younger than Murray. How does the age gap affect your rankings?
TSR: Age gap affect rankings somewhat. Age gap usually comes into play when dealing with either maturity/decision-making or dealing with players that need to add muscle to their frame. These players are still growing, physically and mentally and if they are behind on the curve in terms of age, you have to take that into account. There is no substitute for experience. Age gap could be a reason why Murray is able to make the leap to the NHL while Dumba and Rielly are not ready for that step yet. Murray is more of a finished product while Dumba and Rielly are still being moulded. Dumba and Rielly are prime to tear up the WHL next season.
C & B: Does Rielly have any NHL-level skills right now?
TSR: Rielly is NHL ready in terms of skating and puck distribution. He would likely get eaten alive in the defensive end in the NHL. Rielly still needs to fill out and understand how to use his speed in the defensive end to in order retrieve pucks so to avoid the strength battles.
C & B: In your mind, how large is the gap between Murray and Rielly and what sticks out as Murray's biggest advantge?
TSR: At the moment, the gap is large. In time, the gap will likely shrink. Offensively, they are pretty comparable, over time Rielly might even get the upper hand due to his skating. Where Murray has the advantage on Rielly is defensively. There is more composure and maturity to Murray's game. Murray is better positionally and possesses a good stick, almost like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that happens to play defense. Murray understands how to remove player from puck, where Murray might run into issues is having to do that against bigger NHL forwards.
C & B: Is there a possibility that some teams have Rielly as their #1 defenseman?
TSR: In the teams drafting in the top 5? Unlikely. Teams drafting that high are usually wanting to get out of the basement ASAP and they are looking to add someone who can help them immediately. That player would be Murray. For those that can afford to wait, they would likely take Trouba. Rielly will likely be a one-dimensional offensive defenseman at his peak, but he will be really good at that dimension.
C & B: I've yet to see Rielly play live. Describe his style of play.
TSR: Rielly is a smooth, puck-handling offensive defenseman. A tempo setting player that will enhance a teams offense. His decision making when he has the puck is outstanding. Skating is smooth and very agile. Not sure he'll be a big minute defenseman at the pro level, due to stature and lack of shutdown ability.
C & B: Jacob Trouba has drawn optimisitc comparisons to Kris Letang and Ryan Murray has been compared to Ryan Suter. Who does Rielly compare to?
TSR: I compare Rielly to Phil Housley back in the day. I've heard others compare him to Brian Campbell, to use a more current player.
C & B: If Edmonton and Columbus go chalk, Toronto, Montreal and Anaheim certainly don't need defensive help first. There is a real possibility that Minnesota, Carolina, Winnipeg, and Tampa will draft Dumba, Rielly, Trouba and Reinhart in order. Which of those organizations would be the best place for Rielly to grow and develop his game?
TSR: Winnipeg would likely be the best landing spot for him. They have a real need for mobile defensemen in their system and he would fit the bill perfectly. Tampa would be a good spot as well, but I fear they would rush him since their team is wanting to get back to winning and they lack mobile defensemen. Minnesota and Carolina both drafted mobile defensemen last year in Jonas Brodin and Ryan Murphy. Rielly landing there would make him redundant even though he could potentially be better than those 2 players.
C & B: Thanks for your time, Dan. We'll talk again soon.