Toronto Maple Leafs Searching For Morgan Rielly’s Perfect Partner

Toronto Maple Leafs fans are curious about what is going to happen with the defensive corps. We’re not so much wondering who will make the club, but rather who will play alongside whom.

We are still in the early stage of the pre-season, but Toronto’s blue line is all set. Morgan Rielly will lead a group that will include Matt Hunwick, Jake Gardiner, Martin Marincin, and Roman Polak in the top six. Twenty-year-old Rielly is coming off an incredible performance in the World Cup for North America. All of the players in this group had roles with the Leaders last season. 24-year-old KHL veteran Nikita Zaitsev, however, is a newcomer, having just signed with the Leafs last May.

At least three more defencemen are challenging for top six positions. These include Frank Corrado, Connor Carrick, and Rinat Valiev. Corrado performed well last year, Carrick had been used to the role, and Valiev was the third-round selection in 2014 who is prepared to make the jump to the NHL

But the pairings are the real talking point of this pre-season.

Rielly was paired with Hunwick for half of last season, but Hunwick played of two of his three exhibition games alongside Zaitsev. They were a strong pairing since Hunwick is a left-handed shot and Zaitsev shoots from the right side. Rielly will most likely be paired with Marincin.

Right now, the other pairs include Polak with Corrado, and Gardiner with Carrick.

According to research conducted by blogger DragLikePull, Rielly was fifth among NHL defencemen last season when is came to full-length shots. He was 39th in full-strength points even though the Leafs struggled to score in five-on-five situations. The Leafs ultimately landed 26th out of 30 teams.

Rielly did comparatively poorly on the defensive side of the puck. This was partially because his opponents were all strong players for the first time in his career. Rielly’s Corsi for percentage was 47.8 percent with Hunwick as his partner, with 50 or higher being considered good. With Marincin by Rielly’s side, that number improved to 50.1 percent, and with Gardner it went all the way to 60.4. Gardner was also Rielly’s partner on the power play.

The Leafs intend to put a lot of effort into improving Rielly’s overall performance over the course of this season. Hunwick said that the team works on certain techniques every day as a group. He stated that last year, a lot of system work was done. Now that the Maple Leafs essentially have systems down, they are looking to improve on other areas. Those areas include moving the puck, working with one’s partner, and making shots from the blue line.

The fact that the Leaf’s’ defensive corps should be a similar group to the people last season could work in their favor. They’ll likely have more mobility out their own zone, better puck possession numbers, and more time in the offensive zone.

The upcoming hockey season is sure to be an interesting one for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Depending on who gets paired with whom and how well the team trains together, we could be in for a fantastic season.

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