Mike Reilly Set for Debut, Telling Moment for Team

Rookie defenseman Mike Reilly is set to make his NHL debut Saturday against the Dallas Stars, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.

Reilly came to the team as a college free agent. Originally a pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, he opted to test free agency following three seasons at the University of Minnesota. The 22-year-old Minnesota-native opted not for the fastest route to the NHL — which the Blue Jackets’ thin blue line would have provided — but an organization he was deeply familiar with it.

Doing Time

Though Reilly was highly sought after — the Blackhawks even brought him to a game during the Stanley Cup Final — he hasn’t been able to climb the ranks yet. The start of his first pro season with the Iowa Wild hasn’t been easy. Halfway through the season he hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL and he was playing with a team who, for much of the season, has been in the AHL’s cellar. Iowa didn’t win a single game during November.

He was given a call up to the NHL club in early December, not to play, but to get a taste of what it’s like day-to-day in the NHL and to spend time working with assistant coach Darryl Sydor.

Reilly is currently second in Iowa with 18 points (5-13-18) in 32 games. That spot on the team reflects a significant uptick in his offensive production since his time with Sydor. In the first 23 games of the season he had two goals and seven assists. Since his time practicing with the NHL club, he’s had three goals and six assists in nine games. That includes a five-game point streak that ended on New Year’s Day against the Manitoba Moose.

The Future of the Blue Line

This is significant for the Minnesota Wild because the Wild have a tight cap situation on the horizon and general manager Chuck Fletcher has shown a desire to improve the team’s forward situation. That is, he’s reported to be making calls any time an elite-level forward or number once center is said to be available. By all accounts, the Wild were interested in Ryan Johansen’s services before he was traded to Nashville.

The area of strength the Wild can trade from is their blue line. It’s under-rated by many fans, but their depth isn’t lost on GMs around the league. They have a solid top four with Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin. After that, they have a number of promising young defensemen, including Reilly, Matt Dumba and Gustav Olofsson.

In order to acquire a number one center, the team may need to move a defenseman, like Nashville was forced to do. It may also be a reality of the salary cap with Suter making $7.53 million until 2024-25, Jared Spurgeon’s new $5.18 million contract kicking in next year and on the books until 2019-20, Scandella taking in $4 million until 2019-20 and Brodin making $4.16 until 2020-21.

Add to that, they have Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba and Darcy Kuemper, all RFAs, in a contract year. Next year is a contract year for RFAs Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Nino Niedereiter, Olofsson and Reilly.

If Reilly can step into the lineup and show that he’s ready for the show or at least capable of sticking and continuing his development, it could make moving a defenseman a little easier for Fletcher.

We have a pretty good sense of where Dumba is. He’s an offensive threat, but still prone to defensive lapses. Yet Fletcher has to feel pretty good about his development at this stage. He’s likely capable of being a top four defenseman in the near future.

Olofsson, who missed all but a few games last season, and Reilly are bigger question marks. They aren’t expected to take this kind of opportunity and suddenly been on the same plane as Spurgeon, but showing an ability to hang with NHLers and make a couple good plays could go a long way toward the club’s longview of them. If one is capable of showing a real potential to be top four in the future, then sending a defenseman away to acquire a Johansen-esque player becomes a little less painful.

It’s certainly not why Reilly is up in the NHL, but if Fletcher can get him or Olofsson to take hold of an opportunity like this with Nate Prosser out, it has the potential to change the hand that Fletcher’s been dealt. Olofsson was fine in his cup of coffee, but there wasn’t a definite sense that he’s close to regular NHL time.

Now, it’s Reilly’s shot.

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