Rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly oozes talent and the former WHL star has inserted himself into the Calder Trophy conversation.
Few 19-year-old blueliners have the skating ability that Rielly has. He's an effortless skater who can join the rush, yet get back to defend if necessary. It's an obvious strength in today's NHL.
He's at his best when he's making things happen in the offensive zone for his Leafs teammates.
But Rielly is not alone in having a positive impact on his team as a rookie this season. He's one of several very good rookie rearguards and there have also been a number of important rookie forwards.
Sean Monahan, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyler Johnson, Chris Kreider, Mark Scheifele, Tomas Hertl, Valeri Nichushkin and Aleksander Barkov are some of the top skaters who have had strong campaigns.
Among forwards, MacKinnon, Johnson and Nichushkin are likely frontrunners based on their numbers and the important impact they have had on their respective teams.
So where does Rielly fit in? It's easier to compare him directly to other top rookie defencemen as the comparison to forwards would be of the apples-to-oranges variety.
Here's how Rielly's numbers stack up against the other top rookie blueliners so far this year:
|Top Rookie Defencemen By the Numbers|
In many categories, especially hits and blocked shots, Rielly is among the rookie leaders. However, given the focus on point totals for both the Norris Trophy and the Calder Trophy, Rielly's goal and point totals are well down the list, an obvious hindrance.
His minus-13 rating is not going to endear him to voters either despite that rating being a crude way of determining a player's effectiveness especially across team lines.
His blocked shot totals and total hits do lend some credence to his developing all-around game that fans have seen as the season has wore on.
Rielly does have the advantage of being in one of the NHL's marquee markets. If the Leafs decide to promote him for the award, they have the option of additional exposure compared to some very good young defencemen in other markets like Radko Gudas in Tampa Bay, Eric Gelinas in New Jersey and Hampus Lindholm in Anaheim.
First-half standouts like Torey Krug, Seth Jones and Olli Maatta are much more likely to receive greater attention given their glowing point totals and positive press.
Ultimately, Rielly should be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy. Voters seem to favour players from winning teams, so if Rielly's role increases, and the Leafs can make the playoffs, this should increase his chances.
However, if his goal and point totals don't increase dramatically, especially given his offensive style of play, he's likely to be a footnote in this year's story for the Calder.
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