Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
After not signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted him in 2011, former Gophers’ defenseman Mike Reilly became a highly sought after free agent for NHL teams this summer. With reported interest from as many as nine teams at one point, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins, Reilly ultimately decided to stay home by signing a two-year, $1.85 million entry-level deal with the Minnesota Wild on July 1.
The Wild have seven defenseman that are either locks to be on the roster or on a one-way contract, so Reilly has an uphill climb to make the team right out of the gate without injuries coming into play. His first opportunity to impress in a game situation will come on Monday night, in Minnesota’s exhibition opener against the Buffalo Sabres.
Reilly was the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten, and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, but learning the Wild’s system has been a big adjustment for him early in camp. He should eventually add some much-needed offense to the Wild blue line, after leading NCAA defenseman in points last season with 42 (six goals and 36 assists), but any notable contribution during the coming season should be considered a bonus.
The Wild sent 2012 first-round pick Matt Dumba to the minors early last season, with the idea that playing regularly would benefit him. A similar blueprint seems to be coming with Reilly this year, and Dumba’s contribution in last year’s postseason (four points with two power play goals) proved that it worked to keep the bigger picture in mind with a young defenseman.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo has suggested that Reilly would have to earn a power-play role to make the team. Being a regular healthy scratch would have no benefit for Reilly, or the Wild, and some development time in the minors early this season should set him up for a long NHL career.
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