You watch Morgan Rielly and you see what’s there: the stride, the intuitive passing, the blocky body that should allow him to hang in and fight through the congestion near his own crease.
It took Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to note what wasn’t there.
“I had the conversation with Morgan about getting him to play more of his game,” Carlyle was saying after a spirited scrimmage, Wednesday.
“I asked him what his strengths were. He said his number one thing was skating. I said ‘I don’t know if we really saw you skate the first couple of days.’”
Rielly was impressive Wednesday as he continued his bid to be on the team when the Maple Leafs hit the ice for real in Montreal on Saturday.
The math is not favourable although it is better than it could have been.
Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson and John-Michael Liles are automatic.
That leaves Korbinian Holzer, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson, Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser and Rielly fighting for the last three positions.
Franson and Komisarek have substantial experience, a valued asset in this shortened season.
That Rielly is in consideration at all speaks to the jaw-dropping nature of his skills. He is just 18. There is an opening because Jake Gardiner is not yet ready to practice.
Gardiner suffered a head injury last month and while he skated for 15 minutes both Tuesday and Wednesday, there is no timetable for his return. It seems unfathomable that he would be ready for the Montreal game or even the Leafs home-opener, Monday against Buffalo.
What Carlyle wasn’t seeing before Wednesday was confidence, the kind of confidence that translates into competence: gaining the line, holding the puck under pressure, finding a safe place to put it. All those elements were on display, Wednesday.
Carlyle moved Rielly to Dion Phaneuf’s flank during the scrimmage. The two had an easy chemistry and Phaneuf delivered an ongoing tutorial when the two shared the bench.
“He was helping me out, giving me some confidence,” Rielly said. “Even on the ice he was chatting a lot. As a partner, that helps.”
“Playing with Dion, he’s your best defenceman,” Carlyle said. “You give the kid the security blanket of playing with him. I thought he showed flashes of ability to skate with the puck.”
Carlyle also noted Rielly gained position in the zone and then sent a poor pass a few feet back to his point man. Opposing players will pounce on that kind of mistake.
“That would be a big no-no,” said Carlyle, who might not use those same words should it happen in a game.