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Maple Leafs' Rielly looks to make his mark at camp

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The Canadian Press
1/14/2013 5:42:57 PM
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TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle is comfortable with the idea of giving a top prospect a shot with the big club.

When he was a head coach in Anaheim in 2010, Cam Fowler was given a chance to play and quickly cemented a spot on the Ducks' blue-line. Morgan Rielly is hoping to take a similar path to the NHL with the Maple Leafs.

The six-foot-one, 200-pound defenceman has looked solid over the first two days of training camp.

"The one thing is he's been a quick study, he's been a kid who's been able to absorb a lot in a short period of time," Carlyle said Monday. "He's played in some pressure situations and we're looking at playing him to his strengths."

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old Vancouver native.

He averaged nearly a point a game with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors before joining the Canadian team that finished fourth at the world junior hockey championship in Ufa, Russia.

Rielly returned to North America and took part in some informal skates at the Leafs' practice rink before the collective bargaining agreement was ratified. The fifth overall pick in last year's draft is definitely in game shape after a busy few months.

Whether he's ready for the rigours of games at the NHL level is the big question. Carlyle said the short training camp and lack of pre-season games make things a little more challenging.

"I can remember playing Cam Fowler in every exhibition game," Carlyle said. "Most coaches would play their young players -- if they had a chance to make their hockey club -- you'd give them every opportunity to prove to you they could. And right now we're not afforded that with (four) days left of practice.

"We only have a very short period of time so that magnifies the assessment. He's a very skilled young man."

Fowler, who was also drafted in the first round, was 18 when he cracked the Anaheim roster. He had 40 points in his rookie campaign and followed it up with a 29-point season in 2011-12.

Rielly is considered a strong puck-moving defenceman who is comfortable playing a lot of minutes. The odds of cracking the roster aren't great but he's hoping to make a good impression.

"I know (Carlyle) kept Cam but it's obviously a pretty hard league to play in when you're 18 years old," Rielly said. "You're playing against some older guys and stuff like that. I'm pretty confident with how I've been playing. But obviously I've got to keep working hard."

Rielly is comfortable with the higher tempo and knows it's only going to get more difficult over the next few days.

"He's got great vision on the ice," Carlyle said. "If you watch him pass the puck and move the puck, he's got NHL passing skills. You see him up top on the power play, you can see that's one of his strengths. He's not intimidated by any of those situations.

"The other part of it -- the defensive zone coverage and the gap control drills that we did today -- those things are different. But they're different for every junior player coming into an NHL camp."

Carlyle put the players through a spirited workout at the MasterCard Centre. Intense skating drills capped the two-hour session, with new general manager Dave Nonis and his management team watching from the stands.

The Maple Leafs, who will open the season Saturday in Montreal, are hoping to improve on a disappointing 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.

"I think all levels of the organization are going to feel that there is more pressure to have success," Carlyle said. "We know that. We welcome it and it's up to us to perform and that's our responsibility."

As for Rielly, he's trying to soak up the experience and hope that his hard work pays off.

"I understand that I have an opportunity here that a whole lot of other kids don't get," he said. "So I'm going to try to make the most of it."

Morgan Rielly (Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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