Highly touted University of Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly has officially informed the Columbus Blue Jackets that he will not be signing with them and will instead opt to explore free agency.
Larry Brooks confirmed earlier today that the New York Rangers are, in fact, out of the hunt, meaning Chicago, Minnesota, and Los Angeles are the three teams left to bid for his services. All three clubs are playoff contenders in the Western Confer
1 – Chicago Blackhawks
No-brainer, right? Chicago Blackhawks are coming off a Stanley Cup win and will be looking to re-tool in an offseason in which cap issues are already becoming a major topic of conversation. Johnny Oduya and Michal Roszival are both unrestricted free agents, and David Rundblad is restricted, meaning the team has just three defensemen under contract at the moment. Even with those players re-signed, the biggest story heading into the Final was whether or not Chicago had enough defensive depth to compete with Tampa Bay, and the only way to come out on top of that series was to ride their top four.
Reilly has enough talent to step in and play for Chicago tomorrow. He’s a good enough skater and talented enough in both ends to fit into Quenneville’s system, and would fill a left-handed defensive role on the third pairing with either David Rundblad or, more likely, should he stay healthy, Trevor van Riemsdyk. The key here is that the Blackhawks have a few decent defensive prospects who should play professionally next season, but none of them are left-handed shots. Though there’s a definite chance of the team taking a step back next season, Reilly adds some much-needed depth and helps Chicago address their defensive issues.
2 – Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles might be a tougher sell and is probably not at the top of Reilly’s personal list, but is another situation for him where he can step in and be a factor immediately. This time last year the Kings were celebrating their second cup in three years and were being praised in the media just like this Chicago team is. However, after a season of inconsistency and the deserved arrest and suspension of Slava Voynov they were on the outside looking in when the playoffs began. Still, much of the same core from their 2014 Stanley Cup team will be returning.
With Muzzin and Martinez signed on the left side, unrestricted free agent Andrej Sekera is Reilly’s competition at the moment. If the Kings aren’t willing to re-sign Sekera to the big contract he’ll likely command, there’s a void on the left side that a player like Reilly fits perfectly. Though he won’t likely won’t be able to replace Sekera or Vonyov’s production immediately, he’s good enough to eat up minutes and take the pressure off the team’s top players. Reilly would likely be competing with prospect Derek Forbort who skated for the Manchester Monarchs this season, and I believe he’d beat him out.
3 – Minnesota Wild
In his entire life, Reilly has only played his home games outside of Minnesota for one season. The kid who grew up in Chanhassen and attended the Academy of Holy Angels before moving on to Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep made the jump to the BCHL for one year before coming home and joining the University of Minnesota. This would be the best story, and it’s worth noting that Reilly’s father is a part-owner in the Wild organization. Reilly clearly loves being in Minnesota, and it’s very likely that he ultimately signs with the Wild.
As much as he may want to play for the Wild, it may not work out in his favor to sign there. If he wants to play in the NHL this season, there’s an opening on the left side behind Ryan Suter and Marco Scandella, but one he’d have some competition for. Minnesota also dressed Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard this season, two veteran, two left-handed defensemen that are unrestricted free agents. While it seems likely that Ballard retires, Leopold at the right price may be deemed the better option. Reilly will also be competing with top left-handed prospects Gustav Olofsson and Dylan Labbe in camp.