TORONTO - Three days of scrimmaging at his first Maple Leafs prospect camp and already Morgan Rielly turned heads.
You would hate to think a guy might be fast-tracked, but …
“It was evident when he carried the puck up a few times and moved it and plays with intelligence, you’re saying, ‘My goodness, what we do have here?,’” Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes said after Thursday’s scrimmage.
“Maybe we need to continue to reassess this a little bit more. Maybe he is ahead of the curve. We will see.”
That came after Hughes told reporters on Wednesday that Rielly was just getting his feet wet, and as far as career progression goes, Hughes was right.
But if Rielly goes to Canada’s junior team summer camp in August and continues to excel, there’s no point in putting limitations on him once Leafs training camp commences a month later.
What impressed Leafs brass was that Rielly, the fifth pick overall in the entry draft last month, improved as each day of the prospects gathering passed.
“He knows where he wants to go with this and he probably knows how to get there,” Hughes said. “Almost like Jake (Gardiner) here last year. He was a man on mission, and (Matt) Frattin was two years ago. They come in here, they have something on their mind, and they really won’t let anything get in their way. He has a little bit of that in him, which is great.”
Rielly’s puck control while moving up the ice is what had many talking as the prospects went their separate ways for the rest of the summer.
“I was just trying not to screw up, just be myself,” Rielly said of his first four days in blue and white. “It was a good experience. I thought I improved as I kept playing, but it is always hard when you are playing with people you have not before.”
THE NEXT ONES
While much of the attention when it comes to Leafs prospects centres on players such as Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker, what of the next group?
Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Jamie Devane, Sam Carrick, Andrew Crescenzi — all are expected to make the jump to the Marlies next year.
“Those guys are going to leave this program and spread their wings a little bit and see what they do at the next level,” Hughes said. “Some had a great week, and some are capable of more, and we expect more, and they should expect more. The maturation and growing steps for these guys is different. Some get it at 18. Some get it at 21, 22, and quite honestly, some never get it. Some of it can only happen over time in a natural fashion, but we try to expedite the process.”
Ross, the 43rd pick overall by the Leafs in 2010, is an on-ice agitator, but he acknowledged he couldn’t take full advantage of his grating ways this past week.
“It’s a little harder to agitate here because I don’t really know anybody and don’t have time to study the opponents,” Ross said. “It is a little harder, but I still try to stick to my game. It is a little awkward trying to get under somebody’s skin when you might be playing with them next year. I’ve just tried to balance it out.”
The Leafs noticed a bit of reluctance on the part of Ross to shift disturb.
“He is one of those guys who plays on the edge and it is probably a little more difficult to do that when you know these guys and are hanging out with them every day,” Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison said. “But I think he is ready (for the pro level).”
Said McKegg: “It’s my third development camp. I’m not going to say it gets easier each time, but you get more comfortable on the ice.”
Of those players, there is not a future star in the bunch, but any of them could develop into a serviceable NHL player.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
One gets the feeling that if forward Tyler Biggs plays for the Oshawa Generals next season, he could dominate the Ontario Hockey League. He’s big, physical and has a hard shot. If he has a solid training camp, the Leafs might have a difficult decision … Rielly lost a tooth during Wednesday’s scrimmage but didn’t miss a shift. That also endeared him further to team staff … Who got in Hughes’ good books, and by extension, those of general manager Brian Burke, with his play this week? Rielly, second-rounder Matt Finn, Dominic Toninato, Viktor Loov, 2011 picks David Broll and Tony Cameranesi, among others … Not that it’s a huge loss, but the Leafs’ experiment with forward Phillippe Dupuis lasted just one season as Dupuis signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dupuis couldn’t help a struggling Leafs penalty-killing unit and somehow managed to record zero points in 30 games. He performed better for the Toronto Marlies, but playing well for the minor-league club was not why the Leafs signed him last July … The Leafs will keep tabs on forward Sondre Olden, who was not signed by Toronto and was not picked when he re-entered the draft in Pittsburgh. Olden was selected 79th overall by the Leafs in 2010 and is expected to return to the Erie Otters for a second consecutive season with the OHL club … Because of possible labour uncertainty, the Leafs do not plan to participate in or play host to a rookie tournament in September.