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Morgan Rielly’s Journey to Become Maple Leafs’ Greatest D-Man

Over his seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Morgan Riley has been a solid defenseman. Could he become a franchise best ever?

Morgan Rielly’s story as a defenseman with the Toronto Maple Leafs represents a history of persistent improvement and commitment. Since his time with the team, he’s evolved from a promising rookie to a linchpin of the team’s defensive corps.

Related: Maple Leafs Resisting Urge to Coast into the Playoffs

Rielly Was Picked Fifth Overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Selected fifth overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Rielly’s arrival in Toronto created optimism among Maple Leafs fans. He came at a time when the team was hungry for a resurgence. While being compared to several of the Maple Leafs’ esteemed blueliners of the past, Rielly has grown and flourished with a team that is based far away from his home province of British Columbia.

He’s now become a mainstay with the Toronto organization. As an on and off-ice leader, he carries himself well and represents the team in one of the hottest hockey markets in the NHL. It would be a surprise if the team ever moved him; and, as a result, there’s a good chance he will finish his career with the Blue & White.

Rielly’s Growth as a Maple Leafs Player Has Been Steadily Upward

In his inaugural NHL season (2013-14), Rielly showed flashes of offensive brilliance, hinting at his potential as a franchise cornerstone. As the Maple Leafs embarked on a roster overhaul with significant young players being drafted who have improved the team, Rielly’s role expanded, and his contributions became increasingly pivotal.

Morgan Rielly Maple Leafs UD

The pivotal 2017-18 campaign marked a significant turning point in Rielly’s trajectory. Setting career highs with 52 points, he emerged as a defensive anchor. At the same time, he solidified his reputation as a two-way force. Although Toronto didn’t advance past the first round, Rielly’s standout performance carried into the playoffs. This success helped to affirm his ability to elevate his game at the most difficult time of the season.

However, the 2018-19 season cemented Rielly’s status among the league’s elite defensemen. By accumulating an impressive 72 points, he showed his offensive power while earning the Norris Trophy consideration for his defensive prowess. Rielly’s leadership on and off the ice became indispensable to the team’s hopes of growing into a perennial contender.

Rielly Has Remained a Model for Consistency and Leadership

Despite encountering injuries, Rielly has remained a model of consistency for the Maple Leafs. His offensive output remains solid; and, although he’s not known for his defensive strength, he’s continuing to evolve in that area.

By the 2021-22 season, Rielly had ascended to the upper echelon of the NHL’s elite defensemen. Leading the Maple Leafs’ blue liners with 68 points, he’s come to epitomize the kind of offensive playmaker the team had hoped it would get when they drafted him. He’s also mentored younger players and has become a respected leader in the locker room.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

As the 2023-24 season unfolds, Rielly’s journey with the Maple Leafs continues to grow. Because every season with this consistent contender carries playoff possibilities, Rielly is part of a team that seeks to push its success into the postseason. As such, Rielly’s story with the team remains unfinished. Should he become part of a Stanley Cup-winning squad, there’s a good chance he’ll cement his name into the history of Toronto hockey.

Could he soon be hailed as the greatest defenseman in Maple Leafs history? His numbers, compared with the great defensemen who came before him, are pulling closer together. Only time will tell where his story ends. He might one day see his name beside the great Borje Salming as the best in franchise history.

Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs 6-4 Win Over the Panthers



  1. CD

    April 3, 2024 at 1:53 pm

    Not sure I’d label Rielly elite, but he most definitely is an integral part of the Leafs, and “core four” is kind of a slap in the face.

  2. Jon Harding

    April 4, 2024 at 7:11 am

    Does Reilly returning to the lineup and playing 23 minutes have anything to do with the team’s worst defensive game in two weeks, last night’s 4-1 loss? I’ve long contended he’s a true rover – not a forward and not a defenceman – doing neither exceptionally well but one or the other OK, especially in the offensive side. Best ever Leafs’s blue liner? He and management’s inability to address the defensive side of the game are likely an achille’s heel that will prevent this generation of Leafs from getting even close to a Cup.

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