Morgan Rielly really didn't need to play another minute this season to confirm what NHL scouts already know -- he's an extraordinary force on defence for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.
Rielly suited up for the first time since Nov. 6 on Apr. 20 for Game 1 of the WHL Eastern Conference Finals against the Edmonton Oil Kings. While the Warriors ended up losing the series, Rielly was a bright spot for the club. He ended up with three points in five games against the Oil Kings.
"The reason behind my playing again has nothing to do with my draft or anything like that," Rielly told NHL.com. "It's because I want to help my team win. I think we have a team that can have a good playoff run. If there's any way I could help my team achieve that goal, I'd do it, and at this point in time it means me playing again."
Despite missing five-plus months of playing time while recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the 6-foot, 190-pound left-shot blueliner has remained No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the top 2012 NHL Draft.
"Draft rankings aren't really a huge deal to me," Rielly said. "It's a nice confidence booster, but it's not anything that I try to put too much emphasis on. It was pretty nice to see [the No. 5 rating] though."
With comparisons being made to Ottawa All-Star defenceman Erik Karlsson, it's easy to see why.
"I've seen Rielly do things on the ice that nobody else was doing," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "I saw him make those little passes to guys who weren't expecting the puck to get there. He's the type of player who can lead the rush and he'll be the first guy back. I think his creativity makes him one of the top players in the league.
"He's like a chess player; he's thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don't see."
When told that MacDonald had compared him to an exceptional chess player, Rielly laughed.
"That's a huge compliment," he said. "I try to be a quick on the ice, and a part of being quick is knowing what you're going to do with the puck when it isn't on your stick. I always try to plan ahead."
It's those types of qualities that have impressed scouts so much, it probably would not have made a difference if Rielly returned for the WHL playoffs or not. But that's not the type of player, or teammate, he is.
"He's been skating since late February and has been badgering me to let him play since March 22," Morgan's father, Andy Rielly, told NHL.com via email. "That was a bit early, so the extra rest has been a big help. I will be [in Edmonton] … anxious, but very happy to see Morgan on the ice again."
Rielly was injured during a Nov. 6 game against the Calgary Hitmen after skating hard to the net at top speed and then being knocked to the ice by former teammate Joe Kornelsen. He underwent surgery Dec. 1 and received the green light to resume light workouts at Twist Conditioning in Vancouver later that month.
He returned to Moose Jaw in February, and in March worked on building up his right quadriceps muscle, which shrunk just 0.787 inches. The rehabilitation included weights in the morning and skating in the afternoon. He's currently wearing a carbon-fiber brace and said feels as strong now as he did in November.
"I'm just glad he'll have a chance to show the scouts that he has worked his tail off to get back and that he is as fast as ever," said Andy Rielly, who played for the Surrey Eagles in the BCHL in 1974-75.
Rielly said he hopes none of his teammates ever will have to go through what he had to endure during rehabilitation -- going to treatment twice a day and then to the gym to build strength. He said it was a real exercise in character-building.
"Two weeks ago I was strong and quick but lacked that confidence," he said. "I wasn't as confident as I needed to be, and I think after two weeks of on- and off-ice training, I've regained that confidence and I'm perfectly happy with the idea of playing."
Rielly led Moose Jaw in rookie scoring last season and was second among defencemen with 28 points in 65 games. He was the second-youngest player to represent Team Canada at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship, a moment he still considers his fondest hockey memory.
In 18 games this season prior to his injury, Rielly had 15 assists and 18 points.
"I think I bring a lot to the table just because I see myself as a good skater, and the way the game is played now, it's all about your speed and quickness," Rielly said. "I think that while the game hasn't changed a whole lot, throwing the huge hits all the time isn't really a huge aspect of the game anymore. I like to think of my game as quick and smart and I think that's how the game is played. Off the ice, I feel I bring character and hard work. I'm always trying to get better."
Rielly is the No. 2 defenceman on Central Scouting's final list, trailing only Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray.
"Had he not been hurt, he probably would have challenged [Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov] for the No. 1 ranking," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said of Rielly. "He's got that [Bobby] Orr-ish quality about him. He can change the game in all areas of the ice, so I'm not surprised he stayed at No. 5 simply because of how good this kid is."
Prior to joining the Warriors, Rielly captained the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Sask., to a gold medal at Canada's 2010 National Midget Championship. He led all defencemen in scoring that season with 55 points, including 18 goals, and was named the team's co-MVP.
"He's one of the few players and defencemen [in this draft] who has another gear," MacDonald said. "He can freeze a player with a stutter step, than blow by them. He's effortless and always thinking offense. He's got a high upside and is the type of player who will continue to grow."
Author: Mike Morreale of NHL.com with files from Torie Peterson of CalgaryFlames.com