So this was unexpected, right? Many were hoping that Morgan Rielly’s injury, one that didn’t even take him completely out of the game he suffered it in, was just a short-term ailment. that he wouldn’t miss a game. Well, he’s going to miss two as of tonight, and about an hour ago, we found out that he to be placed on injured reserve for an upper-body ailment. In his place, the Leafs have called up Rinat Valiev for the Marlies.

Wait, what? Not Martin Marincin, or even Calle Rosen?

As it stands, I’m not sure that this is a full-term solution. Toronto plays in three of the next four nights, with two games on the road, but then have the All-Star Break ahead of them afterwards. At that point, they’ll know for sure whether they need someone to join them for a longer term or not, especially in the event that the Leafs lose another defenceman in that time.

If they don’t, I don’t expect him to play. But he does get to give himself another opportunity to display his ability to Mike Babcock. Valiev made a 10-game appearance with the team in 2015/16, as the Leafs were tailspinning towards the bottom of the standings. In that stretch, he played about 12 minutes a night, picked up no points, but managed an above-water 51.5% shot attempt share while playing most of his minutes with Frank Corrado.

Since then, he’s been used in a variety of different ways by the Toronto Marlies. Originally used in a heavy-matchup pairing with then-captain Andrew Campbell, Valiev has spent most of the last two years playing with the mobile, rover-like Justin Holl, giving a bit of defensive balance to the pair. Prospect-Stats estimates that the 22-year-old has played the fourth-most even strength minutes per game this year, and trails only Travis Dermott in even-strength primary points per game and estimated primary points per 60 (for traditionalists: he has 8 points in 29 games). By their metrics, the Valiev-Holl pairing has faced the toughest competition of any Marlies duo, and has come out in a positive way as far as goal differential goes.

That, for the most part, lines up with the eye test. The 6’2, 190lb native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia has proven himself to be a hard-nosed, aggressive defenceman who backs down from very little. Last year, his attempts to prove that nearly became problematic, as he racked up four fighting majors in the first month of the AHL season (the league starts suspending at 10). Despite that, he’s not your typical stay-at-home type; Valiev is capable of making a decent pass and has solid, if not world-beating mobility.

I imagine that a fully developed Valiev would be closer to the “safe play” type defenceman that the Leafs claim to have in Roman Polak right now. Is he there yet, though? That remains to be seen, and I bet it’s something that the staff would like to take a look at this week. They already have a general idea of what Martin Marincin can and can’t do for them. They know what they’ve got in Calle Rosen, and while Andrew Nielsen still has lots of time on his clock, he’s done nothing this season to suggest he deserves a look. And as much as I believe that calling up Justin Holl would be the most fun timeline, I doubt that they feel the same about him.

Even if it leads to nothing, though, this also gives them a chance to give Valiev a raise, giving him a couple thousand dollars per calendar day while he’s up. Marincin and Holl (along with veteran Vincent LoVerde) are all on 1-way deals and wouldn’t financially benefit from the call-up, and Rosen’s already had both his taste and a signing bonus this year (Valiev’s junior year slide leaves him without that bonus this season).

In summation: Valiev has earned himself another opportunity to audition for the higher-ups with steady two-way play this year. Others have already had that look, or are making NHL salaries in the AHL. As such, he stands to benefit the most from this, even if he doesn’t play a game. All the same, let’s hope Morgan Rielly is back soon, because even with the stride’s he’s taken, he’s no Mo.

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