A year ago, Will Reilly was a relatively unknown prospect. Now, he’s one of the best in Junior A hockey.
Reilly, 17, is an enticing junior hockey defenseman. At the age of 15, Reilly was a member of the Toronto Red Wings Minor Midget AAA team, failing to really impress junior scouts in Ontario. As a result, the Toronto, ON. native would go unselected in the 2013 OHL Draft and would instead go and play high school hockey instead of joining a Junior A team.
To put this into perspective, high school hockey in some areas of the United States are very competitive. In Canada, it’s impact isn’t exactly the same, with more of an emphasis placed on Major Junior (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) and Junior A (OJHL, CCHL, BCHL). It’s not often that a Canadian high school athlete goes on to attract big time attention, so for the most part, there wasn’t a lot of focus on Reilly.
That all changed quickly. After acting as one of the top blue liners with Upper Canada College, where he posted seven points in 15 games, Reilly went on to earn a one game stint with the OJHL’s Oakville Blades during an important late season playoff attempt. Reilly’s ice time was limited, but he did manage to score a goal, only to have it awarded to a different player instead.
For 2014-2015, in an effort to potentially go the NCAA route in the future, Reilly made the full-time jump to the OJHL with the North York Rangers. Some teams brushed the signing off, not expecting a whole lot from the young defenseman.
Oh, were they wrong.
When you look back at the season, there were few players that had as great of a season as Reilly. A member of the NHL’s Central Scouting watch list early on in the year, Reilly represented the Rangers in the mid-November Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge. Reilly was also invited to Team Canada East selection camp for the World Junior A Challenge, but would eventually lose out as a final cut to some older, more experienced opponents. To top that all off, Reilly would be named to the CJHL Top Prospect game, playing very effectively despite eventually losing out to the stronger West team late in the game.
Once the season came to a close, Reilly would fourth on the Rangers with 17 goals from the point and fifth in overall scoring with 35 points in 47 games. His accomplished season was topped off with the ultimate award for league freshmen, becoming the recipient of the OJHL’s Top Prospect Award as selected by NHL Central Scouting. It was a remarkable season for the two-way defenseman who, before joining North York, really struggled to find the back of the net from the blue line.
A big-bodied rearguard at 6’2, Reilly’s puck-carrying skills is what really stands out in his game. After picking the puck up behind his own net, Reilly can skate the puck out of his zone, get past a forward or two before sending the puck out at the right time to make a good play. Whether it be making a big pass or taking a wicked shot from far out, Reilly has a ton of options at his disposal when it comes to offense, making him a big threat every time he touches the black disk. His slap shot is exceptionally good, showcasing his power from the defensive line many times throughout his OJHL rookie campaign. He’s not afraid to get into a physical battle if he doesn’t get a shot away, and while he does make the odd defensive lapse every so often, his high-tempo style make him a menace to have to face-off against.
While it’s expected that Reilly will head back to North York next year as a top line defense, Reilly’s future after that isn’t so clear. It’s believed that the 17-year-old, set to turn 18 on July 23rd, is fielding offers in both the NCAA and OHL, but the expectation is that he’ll follow in the footsteps of former OJHL standouts Jake Walman (STL Blues, 2014) and Mike Prapavesis (Dallas Stars, 2o14). With the amount of progress he made this year, Reilly is an intriguing prospect worth taking a look at in the final three rounds. In the PBR mock draft, Reilly would end up going to the Toronto Maple Leafs at 155, an interesting option considering the Leafs have Morgan Reilly, an unrelated defenseman that also happens to wear #44. Could we see Will follow in the footsteps of Morgan and make his mark in the NHL soon enough? Maybe, just maybe.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.
Photo from OJHL Images.