SUNRISE, FLA. – The Wild acquired a top-flight defenseman Friday, and it didn’t have to give up a thing to get him.
After weeks of being courted by some of the NHL’s highest-profile teams — like the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks — Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly chose his hometown Wild.
“It’s been pretty crazy for me,” Reilly said of the busy process that included 10 clamoring teams and recruiting trips to cities. “When it came down to it, and doing my homework on each team, this just felt right. The last few days, just me sleeping on it, it just felt right here.”
Pat Brisson, the agent for the Hobey Baker Award finalist, informed Chuck Fletcher of the news about five hours before the first round of Friday’s draft. The Wild general manager had been patiently awaiting Reilly’s decision since first meeting him at the combine in Buffalo earlier this month.
“That’s a big get — a big get,” NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said moments after the news broke.
The Wild wouldn’t comment because Reilly can’t officially sign until Wednesday, but he has agreed to a two-year, $1.85 million contract (includes annual $92,500 signing bonuses; the maximum for an entry-level contract) plus performance bonuses.
Reilly, who turns 22 next month, became a free agent June 16 after not signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that drafted him 98th overall in 2011.
He is a puck rusher who led NCAA defensemen with 42 points, tied for third among all NCAA players with 36 assists, ranked first among all NCAA skaters with 19 power-play assists and earned First Team All-America and Big Ten honors for a second consecutive season. In three years with the Gophers, Reilly scored 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games.
The Wild will give Reilly every opportunity to make the team out of training camp. Reilly said no promises have been made, and the Wild might still be interested in re-signing veteran and fellow Gophers alum Jordan Leopold.
“I’ve got to come in and try to earn a spot and play well and play my game,” Reilly said. “There will be a lot of learning curves and mistakes, but I’m ready to learn from the older guys that have played in the league. There’s also a lot of good, young guys, too, that played as well, so it’ll be good to be able to learn from them and take it step by step to learn the pro game and be confident.”
It would be a big transition from college hockey and the big rink at Mariucci Arena to the NHL. But Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel said, “I never discount Mikey. He does things with the puck that are very special and he has a really innate ability to put mistakes behind him and keep playing.
“He never loses confidence. He has a low panic point and a special sense to look for good plays.”
Guentzel said the biggest transition will be defensively and matching up against top NHL players.
“Lots of guys comparable have needed time in the American [Hockey] League, but I think he plays in the NHL at some point next year if not all year,” Guentzel said. “I give him a lot of credit. He put a lot of time and work into building his body and it has allowed him to become a better defender. Sometimes that gets overlooked because of how elite his offensive skills are, but he put in the time to improve on the details and defending was his biggest improvement.”
Reilly was born in suburban Chicago and grew up in Chanhassen. His dad, Mike, is a former Montreal draft pick and minority owner of the Wild. His brothers, Connor and Ryan, are current Gophers, as well as younger sister, Caitlin, who just transferred from Penn State. His older sister, Shannon, played at Ohio State.