The picture of the defensive unit for the 2017-18 Minnesota Wild just got a little bit clearer today as GM Chuck Fletcher and the front office struck a deal with Chanhassen-native Mike Reilly. With the same one-way deal as his partner in Des Moines, the Wild appear to be heading in the direction of re-uniting Gustav Olofsson and Reilly as the third pairing for this year’s club. With #CullenWatch happening still, Reilly’s role is far from cemented, but what the organization is paying $1.45 million over the next two seasons is a guy whose defensive game has grown with his time is Des Moines.
After going out and signing defensemen Alex Grant and Ryan Murphy to two-way deals, Reilly was given a vote of confidence by GMCF and the powers that be as a guy they expect to play NHL minutes this season with one-way status; hopefully I’ve seen Reilly play defense at the Wells Fargo Arena for the last time.
Murphy, a former first round pick, played sparingly for both Charlotte Checkers and Hurricanes last season. Grant, however, almost hit fifty points last season with Providence, though he only has seven NHL games to his name since turning pro in 2009. Though Reilly only had 30 points last season, the Iowa Wild defense, in it’s first year under Derek Lalonde, held opponents to under 200 goals against for the first time since the franchise came to Des Moines in 2013.
Among Wild defensemen, Reilly was first in scoring with 30 points, was second in assists (25) to Pat Cannone (29) and garnered 1.53 offensive point shares compared to Olofsson’s 1.30. He can score and generate plays at the AHL level, but what Minnesota is gambling on is his offensive abilites in the NHL, where he averaged a shot per game but had a shooting percentage of 4.3% over forty-six contests.
Minnesota already has a guy named Matt Dumba who is known for the offensive aggressiveness, so what St. Paul is getting is a guy who worked hard on his lockdown defense in Des Moines. At the NHL level, Reilly blocked 31 shots in 46 NHL games (0.67 per). Add that to Olofsson’s potential (16 blocks in 15 games), you’re getting two guys that add solid shot suppression for Dubnyk for what should be 12 minutes a night. Towards the end of the season, Lalonde had the Olofsson-Reilly pairing as the top unit in Iowa’s push for the playoffs (which unfortunately fell short).
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some concerns. At the NHL level, Reilly had 16 giveaways compared to just two takeaways, but a 46 game sample size is too small to be overly concerned about it. While in Des Moines, you rarely saw wingers buzzing by Reilly and he was a solid point man in the offensive zone. He’s learned a lot about patience, opting to move the puck standing at the blue line over launching clap bombs. He’s developed past the AHL game, so now it’s time to test him in an NHL role full-time. Hopefully the chemistry developed with Olofsson will allow Reilly to swim in the big pond, but if he sinks, Fletcher has two guys hungry to take his spot who are expected to begin the season in Des Moines.
Reilly was a 4th round pick (98th overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who signed with Minnesota as a college free agent after his Junior season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.