LONDON, ONT. -- Morgan Rielly
isn't at the Toronto Maple Leafs' rookie camp just for the experience. He's there to make the team.
"My expectations for myself are pretty high," said the Maple Leafs' top pick (fifth overall) in the 2012 draft. "Obviously my goal is the make the Leafs this year. I've been training hard and I've been on the ice a lot. My goal is to play in Toronto this year."
A smooth-skating defenceman at an even six feet and 205 pounds who had 12 goals and 54 points in 60 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors last season in junior hockey, Rielly got his first taste of the pros at the end of the year when he joined the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Based on his high draft selection, he'll be a part of the Maple Leafs' main training camp, which opens Wednesday. Odds are he'll get a taste of the NHL this season before the Maple Leafs decide if he should turn pro or go back for a final year of junior. He can play nine NHL games before a decision on his future has to be made. If he returns to Moose Jaw he'll likely play for Canada at the world junior championship. He had two goals and three points in last year's WJC.
Marlies coach Steve Spott coached Rielly at the WJC last season and previously with Canada's under-18 team and has high expectations for the defenceman. That said, the Maple Leafs are not in a hurry to rush their kids. As head scout Dave Morrison said during Thursday's morning skate, "More mistakes have been made by rushing kids [to the NHL] than by letting them take their time and find their way."
"He is obviously a very gifted defenceman, but at the same time this is a process," Spott said. "One thing this organization is cognisant of is making sure we develop the players the right way. You can't teach the ability and skill he has, but ultimately his play will dictate where he ends up."
So what does Rielly believe he has to do to make a good impression at this camp?
"Playing well would be a good start," Rielly said. "The jump from junior to pro is a big one, but I'll just try to play my game, play with confidence and hopefully I'll be able to make a good impression."
Here to win
Spott, the new Marlies coach
, will be evaluated by how well he develops the organization's prospects. Taking over from Dallas Eakins, now the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers
, Spott also wants to develop a winning mentality early.
"We want to use rookie camp as an evaluation tool for the Toronto Maple Leafs and look at the prospects in our system, but we want to win as well," Spott said. "It's a double-edged sword."
Greg McKegg, who played last season with the Marlies, will serve as the Maple Leafs' captain during the NHL's rookie tournament while defenceman Andrew MacWilliam and Sam Carrick will be the alternates.Fireworks
When the puck drops Thursday night for the first rookie game between prospects of the Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, the gloves might not be far behind. Spott said he'll start a line of Jamie Devane (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), Andrew Crescenzi (6-foot-5, 208) and Tyler Biggs (6-foot-3, 224).
"We want to see them play first and foremost, but some of these boys we have on this team are extremely tough," Spott said. "Ultimately for them, they want to play, but if there is a situation where they have to defend themselves or a teammate, they will do it...There is still a level of intimidation in hockey and it's important to have physicality and guys that have character and grit to surround your young kids."Net worth
The Maple Leafs have three goalies at rookie camp and each is scheduled to play one complete game. Garret Sparks gets the start against Chicago on Thursday night. Christopher Gibson will play Game 2 against Pittsburgh on Saturday night and Antoine Bibeau will face Ottawa on Sunday night.Moving on up
Is there a rookie at the Leafs' camp that actually has a chance of playing in the NHL this season?
Unquestionably there is.
Two years ago, when the Maple Leafs last held a rookie camp, three players -- Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin -- impressed enough to get a shot in the NHL. There was no rookie camp last season because of the NHL lockout.
This year the Leafs have 25 players at rookie camp and a handful stand a decent shot at playing with the club at some point in the 2013-14 season.
Among them are:
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- Tyler Biggs, RW, chosen 22nd in 2011: Slotted to play with the AHL's Marlies this season, Biggs has second- to third-line NHL potential. He is a grinder with secondary scoring skills. After scoring 26 goals and 53 points with Oshawa of the OHL last season he netted one goal in five games with the Marlies.
- Josh Leivo, LW, chosen 86th in 2011: Had 29 points in 29 games with Kitchener of the OHL after being traded from Sudbury last season. Good speed and hockey sense. Leivo played seven games with the Marlies and managed three assists.
- Petter Granberg, D, chosen 116th in 2010: After helping Sweden win a gold medal at the 2012 world junior championship, Granberg played 13 games with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League last season. He was held without a point. He did, however, have two assists in 13 playoff games.
- Andrew MacWilliam, D, chosen 188th in 2008: A big (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) defenceman, MacWilliam played four seasons at North Dakota of the WCHA, accumulating two goals, 31 points and 327 penalty minutes. He is a solid stay-at-home defenceman who will make a physical impact.
- Morgan Rielly, D, chosen fifth in 2012: With one more year of junior eligibility remaining, there is a good chance Reilly will see some NHL action early this season before the Maple Leafs make a decision on what to do with him. Another year of junior and a second trip to the WJC might be a solid investment in the future.