Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly not officially ruled out to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors

He has not been named, and given all the information we’ve publicly attained from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Morgan Rielly is likely not going to be sent to the world juniors to play for Team Canada this year. That being said, Hockey Canada admitted today that they have not received a definite “no” from Leafs GM Dave Nonis concerning Rielly’s status for the tournament that starts on December 26th, across the pond in Sweden. According to Sean Fitzgerald of the National Post:

And there is this piece of information courtesy of Kevin McGran, Toronto Star.

Rielly has occasionally looked dynamic in a Leafs uniform this season, however, head coach Randy Carlyle has utilized the 19-year-old defenceman sporadically, sometimes choosing to pencil number 44 out of the lineup as a healthy-scratch.

Tomorrow night, the Chicago Blackhawks roll into Toronto in what will be the return of captain, and most established defenceman, Dion Phaneuf. Dion’s return – he missed two-games suspended for a hit-from-behind on Bruins rookie defenceman Kevan Miller – will mean the Leafs’ roster becomes a crowded bunch of eight: Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser, John-Michael Liles, Paul Ranger and Rielly.

If the Blue & White decide to send Rielly to Team Canada’s junior squad – let him play amongst kids, and dominate – maybe win a confidence boosting gold medal – the club will still possess seven NHL blue-liners on its roster (questionable whether all seven are NHL calibre).

Two days ago the Minnesota Wild released similarly situated 19-year-old defenceman Matt Dumba to join Team Canada at the junior tournament. The Leafs may follow suit, or at least, they haven’t publicly and officially ruled out the possibility with definitiveness.

Morgan Rielly has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his twenty-four games with the Leafs this season, which is more than can be said for most defencemen on the team. At the high-end, while flying down the ice with the puck and making plays, Rielly displays all the promising signs of a future superstar. However, his defensive game, like any young man his age (and a great many in the NHL much older), has been substandard – which is an overall problem for the Leafs; not something that can be pinned solely on Rielly.

No one expects Morgan Rielly to shutdown the other teams’ best players every night, but his defensive inexperience has caused him to sit some out (or maybe it’s been a simple case of seniority).

Performance aside, management may decide in the final hour that the best thing for Morgan Rielly would be to take the trip to Sweden and play the role of leader and top player on Team Canada’s defence corps. The experience could be monumental for Rielly, who is the type of player that can decide the outcome of a one-game elimination styled contest like the World Junior tournament. Besides, it would be fun to watch him perform his magic on the big ice, against players of lesser talent. It’s obviously not an easy decision for management who are desperate to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, and in jeopardy of not doing so.

The great conundrum that is the relationship between NHL general managers and coaches is: GMs must maintain a long-term scope of things, whereas, coaches must absolutely win now, under almost any circumstances. In Leaf Land, Rielly is part of the long-term solution, yet, where he fits in with the coach, whose job it is to win, win, win and do it now, now, now, is anyone’s guess. Given the evidence, Carlyle is performing a balancing act between trusting the youngster, and sheltering him from over-exposure and rigorous minutes, which is probably the right thing to do; it’s hard to argue Carlyle isn’t doing what he believes is best for Rielly.

Chances are (just me guessing) that the Leafs keep Rielly around simply because the team has been struggling and it cannot afford to limit its options and throw Team Canada a bone – deem Rielly unavailable for a few of weeks. Maybe things would be different if the Leafs were winning games, but their luck has taken a turn for the worse of late. In fact, after a strong October, Toronto’s record is a playoff-birth-hindering (6-10-3), which is good enough for 8th in the Eastern Conference, with several teams at their heels.