Rick Zamperin: Leafs blueliner Morgan Rielly making an early case for Norris Trophy

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) celebrates with centre Mitchell Marner (16) after scoring in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Chicago. AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

The Toronto Maple Leafs are something to behold right now.

Entering their fifth game of the regular season Thursday night in Detroit, the Leafs are in first place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve scored more goals than any other team in the league (20), and have three of the NHL’s top four point-getters.

It isn’t all lollipops and rainbows, however. Going into their game against the Red Wings, Toronto has allowed the most goals in the league (17).

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But there are certainly more bright spots than warts in the Mecca of hockey. One of those is Morgan Rielly.

The 24-year-old defenceman has enjoyed an exceptional start to his 2018-19 season by scoring two goals and adding eight assists in four games. His eight assists lead the league (as of Wednesday) and he shares the top rung on the points ladder alongside teammate Auston Matthews with 10.

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Both players are on pace for a gigantic 205 points this season. No. 1, they won’t get anywhere near that, and No. 2, that output would still fall short of Wayne Gretzky’s single-season points record of 215. “The Great One” actually holds the top four single-season point totals, collecting 212, 208 and 205 points in a season. Crazy, eh!?

Rielly arrived in the NHL with the “offensive defenceman” label when he was drafted fifth overall by the Leafs in 2012 and enjoyed his best season last year by registering a career-high 52 points.

Over the last handful of years, the six-year NHL veteran has utilized his speed, positioning and hockey smarts to improve his defensive play as well, making Reilly an all-around blueliner.

But is Rielly good enough to be in the discussion for the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best defenceman?

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There hasn’t been a repeat Norris Trophy winner over the last six seasons (Victor Hedman, Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban) and twice in those six years has the winner led their team in scoring (Burns had 76 points in 2016-17, Karlsson had 66 points in 2014-15).

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Rielly won’t lead the high-powered Leafs in scoring this season but it looks as though he will rack up a bunch of points, and the success of the team should elevate his name into the Norris Trophy conversation.

Whether he wins the award or not might also depend on whether the people who have a vote decide if Rielly’s success on the ice is a byproduct of his offensively talented teammates.

Only time will tell.

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