TORONTO – Even though Morgan Rielly has been with the Toronto Maple Leafs since training camp, that hasn’t stopped the chatter about him going elsewhere.
First it was the question of whether the Leafs would return the 19-year-old defenceman to his WHL club in Moose Jaw at the nine-game mark. In recent weeks it has been about whether they’d loan him to Team Canada to play in the upcoming world junior hockey championship in Malmo, Sweden.
General manager Dave Nonis made official Wednesday that Rielly would be sticking around and not representing Canada.
The news, which seemed likely after Rielly played in five straight games, came as a relief to the blue-liner.
“To be honest with you, I’m just happy it’s over,” Rielly said Thursday. “I can just kind of change gears a little bit and just worry about playing well here in Toronto and just try to help the team.”
Rielly is averaging just under 18 minutes a game, so it’s not like he has been a bit player this season. He has appeared in 27 of the Leafs’ 36 games, but three straight as a healthy scratch earlier this month fuelled world junior speculation.
Since returning from the press box, Rielly has a goal and hasn’t been in any real danger of being exiled again. So naturally he’s not going anywhere.
“We felt that when you have a young player that you have to provide him with quality minutes and a quality opportunity,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “My biggest worry is playing him too much. He’s earned an opportunity to be in our lineup, and we feel that he’d be best suited playing with us because he’s going to play. He’s not going to sit on the bench.”
The fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft made the team out of camp and has a goal and nine assists during his rookie year. There have been some growing pains that Carlyle has tried to guide him through, but never has he looked in over his head for long stretches.
It was Rielly’s goal to make the Leafs rather than return to Moose Jaw, and if the result of that is missing the world junior tournament, he’s OK with that.
“Any time you have a chance to play for Team Canada, that’s a huge honour,” Rielly said. “I’ve been privileged enough to play for that team at the U-20s and also at the U-18s, which were all great experiences.
“I think playing in Toronto is a goal that I had for quite some time, so I’m happy I’m here and all I’m worried about now is just trying to play well and help the team win some games.”
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.