Not to be outdone by the Minnesota Timberwolves' acquisition of Apple Valley star Tyus Jones, the Minnesota Wild made a hometown splash of their own.
According to a report by Michael Russo (who apparently even scooped the Wild front office) After weeks of debating and assessing his options as a Free Agent, Minnesota Golden Gopher defenseman Mike Reilly chose to sign with the Minnesota Wild, most notably over the Chicago Blackhawks. The deal is expected to be finalized on Wednesday, at the start of Free Agency.
Reilly was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he elevated his stock as a prospect throughout the last four years at "The Main U" in Minnesota. As he physically matured, he gained an increasingly prominent role on the Golden Gophers, culminating his Junior season not only as the top-scoring Defenseman in Men's Div I Hockey, but also the highest scoring Golden Gopher (6G-36A-42P). His spectacular season earned him a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award as College Hockey's best player, and he was considered to be a Top-10 prospect in a loaded Blue Jackets system.
So why did Columbus let Mike Reilly go? Well, they didn't want to (with the exception of CBJ center Ryan Johansen, apparently). A loophole exists for College prospects that enables them to become a free agent four years after being drafted. Players in recent memory that have taken advantage of this rule are Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler.
Who Is Mike Reilly?
So you've seen his accomplishments and his accolades. But just in case you're not a Golden Gophers fan- What does Mike Reilly bring to the Wild?
From Nate Wells of Wild Xtra:
Watching Reilly play these days is akin to seeing an artist aware of his surroundings at work. Standing out on the ice in his element, using every available inch for him to skate and set up a scoring chance, the defenseman will do anything to get the job done. If he has to spin to do so, he'll use spinning stuff. If he has a chance to utilize his heavy shot, whether to score or create for his forwards, he'll shoot over and over again.
Based on the scouting reports, he sounds like the kind of defenseman that Chuck Fletcher loves- A smart player and good skater who can move the puck out of trouble and up the ice. While defense isn't the hallmark his strength, his increased strength has enabled him to shore up that part of his game.
What Does This Mean for the Wild?
What's surprising about Reilly signing with the Wild is that he will be facing a lot of competition for an NHL spot next season- competition he would not have to face had he decided to join the Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, who need defensemen. If the Wild stand pat, the Top-5 defensemen for the Wild will be Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and Matt Dumba. This leaves one starting spot open, and the Wild have a nice collection of defense prospects. Reilly's most likely competition will be either Gustav Olofsson or Christian Folin, both of whom are coincidentally also NCAA products.
As for how he'll be used, it would not surprise me if he were used similarly to the way Dumba was used this season- starting out with sheltered minutes and gradually working his way into a bigger role, including on the power play. If his skills at quarterbacking the power play translate to the NHL, this could be the beginning of the end of Ryan Suter on the top power play unit.
After years of being thin on defense, the Wild actually have a strong, deep defensive core. With so many prospects close to the NHL, is it possible that we'll see the Jared Spurgeon trade rumors fired up again?
We talked about this at length last week, but the general sentiment among Hockey Wilderness writers is that it would be wise to hang onto Spurgeon, who was in many ways the Wild's best defenseman last season. As we saw with the plague of mumps that worked it's way down the Wild's blueline last season, it's pretty much never a bad idea to have too many good defensemen. Spurgeon remaining with the Wild would also enable the Wild to ease youngsters Dumba and Reilly into a larger NHL role, with no risk of losing him after next season, as he'll only be a Restricted Free Agent, meaning the Wild will still control his rights.
But a Spurgeon trade is a topic that can wait for another day (unless the Wild trade him at the draft tonight. Signing Mike Reilly without giving up any assets was an absolute coup for Fletcher, and Wild fans should be very excited to see what he can do next season.