Pittsburgh – Morgan Rielly wants to get one thing straight.
“I learned in school it was I before E,” he told his first ever-big league press-conference. “I always thought I had it right.”
I before E it is.
Rielly, a six-foot, 190-pound defenceman with the Moose Jaw Warriors adds to an already stacked position. The Maple Leafs hope to graduate Korbinian Holzer from the Marlies to the big club this fall. Jesse Blacker will enter his sophomore season with the Marlies and Stuart Percy, a first-rounder last season, will be back for another year of junior after a cameo in two AHL playoff games.
The Maple Leafs may be in the hunt for soon defenceman Justin Schultz. The Leafs have captain Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn, Jake Gardiner, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles and restricted free agent Cody Franson at the big league level.
So why take a defenceman?
“Highly skilled defenceman are hard to find. Everybody is looking for them,” said GM Brian Burke. “For every quality defencemen there are three or four quality forwards.”
Still lacking a big, skilled man in the middle, the Leafs passed on Quebec Ramparts centreman Mikhail Grigorenko, a six-foot-two inch pivot. Instead they jumped into a tidal wave of teams hoping to better their blueline. Eight of the first 10 picks were defencemen with only Nail Yakupov, snapped up as the first overall choice by Edmonton and Alex Galchenyuk, a centreman chosen third overall by the Montreal Canadiens.
Rielly sees the obstacles ahead. “They have a talented back end. I’m just hoping I can add to it,” he said.
Rielly missed all but 18 games with a torn ACL and carded 18 points with three goals overall. He was rated sixth overall in The Hockey News’ influential Draft Preview. International Scouting Services pegged him at number seven.
He is an excellent skater and passer with sound decision-making skills.
The knee injury obviously did not deter the Leafs. Truth is, Rielly showed as much in a punishing rehab that landed him in the post season as he might have should he have stayed healthy.
“There were times when I questioned whether the draft was going to happen for me,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I had to keep training harder. I think it all paid off for me.”
“I’ve always been pretty driven. Hearing people explain to me how I can’t play in the playoffs I think it drove me even more.”
“This kid never viewed the injury as a setback,” Burke said. “He viewed it as a challenge and he met that challenge with legendary effort. While he was hurt he was meeting his team on the road. Little things like that show character.”
The biggest name of the night wasn’t even drafted. A day after he turned down a 10-year-contract, the Penguins traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes where he will be teamed with his brother Eric.
The Hurricanes capitalized on Staal’s desire to play with his brother. It only took third-line centre Brandon Sutter, Carolina’s eighth choice (defenceman Derrick Pouillot) and NCAA defenceman Ryan Dumoulin.
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said he anticipated no problems in signing Staal.
“For many years the family said the brothers wanted to play together,” Rutherford said. “Now that they’re together I don’t know why he would want to play somewhere else.”
Burke said he had spoken to Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero about Staal but with unrestricted free agency only another season away, Staal’s desire to play with his brother would trump any attempt to acquire him.
Aside from a deal that sent centre Mike Ribeiro from Dallas to Washington, the big names, Roberto Luongo, Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan stayed exactly where they were.
Filip Forsberg, widely believed to belong in the top five picks tumbled all the way to 11 where he was scooped up by Washington. Mikhail Grigorenko, ranked in the top half dozen for most of the year, fell to 12 and was selected by the Buffalo Sabres.
The Ottawa Senators grabbed hometown defenceman Cody Ceci at 15.
Malcolm Subban, was selected by the Boston Bruins at 24. He should spend many invigorating nights competing with his brother, Canadiens defenceman PK Subban.
The Leafs will draft fifth in Day 2. The draft begins at 10 am.