Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly using 2023 post-season as springboard to success

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Morgan Rielly has picked up where he left off. 

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The veteran Maple Leafs defenceman shone in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, and through the Leafs’ first eight games of the regular season, was doing his thing — eating up minutes and producing nearly a point a game.

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“I’m heavy on the Mo campaign because he deserves more credit than he has been given,” Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano said. “It’s nice to see him playing so well, really from last year. He has been great for us.”

Rielly had seven points before the Leafs met the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena and was averaging 24 minutes three seconds of ice time a game. All the while, Rielly has quietly been a source of guidance behind the scenes. 

“He has been a really good leader for the young guys here,” rookie winger Matthew Knies said. “Someone I can always talk to and look up to. He has been a phenomenal player for us and he is a really big reason as to why we’re in a good spot.”

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CONTRIBUTING MOORE

Trading a player whose best days are ahead of him always comes with some risk, no matter the return, and so it went when the Leafs sent forward Trevor Moore to the Kings as part of a package in February 2020 that brought goalie Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford to Toronto in return.

At the time, Moore was demonstrating that he was on the cusp of becoming an everyday, dependable NHL player. That’s what has happened with the Kings since the trade nearly four years ago.

“Trev is playing with a tremendous amount of pace,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “His edges, his mobility, escape skills — I talk about those all the time — are elite right now, probably the best on our team.”

Moore, who had three good seasons with the Toronto Marlies and wound up playing in 52 games with the Leafs after originally signing as an undrafted free agent in 2016, didn’t agree with the idea that Toronto might have given up on him too early. 

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“I don’t think I feel like they gave up on me if I’m being honest,” Moore said. “I feel like they had a need in net and gave me a good opportunity. I have no hard feelings about anyone.”

Moore was an enthusiastic player in Toronto, whether he was with the Leafs or the Marlies, and reiterated that he loved his time in the city.

In 2018, he was second in Marlies scoring with 17 points in 20 playoff games when the club won the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup.

“It was awesome,” Moore said. “My time with the Marlies was unbelievable. Winning a Calder Cup, I loved playing here. (Now), you come to Toronto, it’s the hockey capital of the world, it’s fun, I look forward to it.”

Prior to Tuesday, Moore’s five goals in eight games led the Kings. Playing in his backyard with the Kings — he’s from Thousand Oaks, Calif. — has been a bonus for Moore.

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“My family comes to every game,” Moore said. “It has been surreal.”

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A KNIES TIME

The Leafs held their rookie dinner in Nashville during their recent trip, with Knies and Fraser Minten getting dressed up in full cowboy gear for the event, right down to the boots. 

Minten was able to take part before he headed back to Kamloops of the Western Hockey League on the weekend. He posted a photo of himself and Knies on Instagram, along with captain John Tavares, as part of a goodbye in which he thanked Toronto.

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“He’s going to be back here pretty soon, so just enjoy (his final season in junior hockey),” Knies said. “Enjoy every second of it and just try to get better and develop and be a leader there.”

How about the rookie dinner?

“Everyone has to go through it,” Knies said. “I think we were excited for it and the guys made it a special night. It was a lot of fun. Incredible time.”

Minten hasn’t yet played for the Blazers since he returned, but once he does, will be a teammate of his younger brother, Bryce. Considering Kamloops’ record — the Blazers are 3-10-2 and in last place in the WHL — it wouldn’t be a surprise if the older Minten eventually is traded. 

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LOOSE LEAFS

The Leafs catch a break in that they won’t have to face Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy on Thursday. McAvoy, the NHL announced late on Tuesday afternoon, has been suspended four games for an illegal check to the head of Florida Panthers defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson during a game on Monday … Easton Cowan has settled in nicely with the London Knights following a great camp with the Leafs, recording 12 points (five goals and seven assists) in seven games since Toronto returned him to the Ontario Hockey League. 

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