Mike Reilly and Christian Folin are confident as they go head-to-head for one of the few available roster spots on the Wild blue line.
Reilly, entering his second season, proudly says he had a “big summer.” He added muscle working daily with his training partner and longtime buddy, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner.
“I’m here to make the team,” said Reilly, 23.
Folin, who has played 67 games in parts of three seasons, proudly says he dropped nine pounds. Weighing in at 205, Folin shed muscle he added last summer so he could move better on the ice.
“I got a personal trainer and took it to a different level,” said the noticeably leaner Folin, 25, who has been up and down to Iowa like a yo-yo since signing with the Wild in 2014. “I want to be here. I don’t want to end up in the situation I’ve been in the last two years.
“There’s not a lot of open spots, but I know what I can do for the team and I’m going to show that in camp. I think I’m going to earn that spot.”
Defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba are considered roster locks. The Wild theoretically could keep eight defensemen, but with Iowa so close in proximity and cap space at a premium, seven is more likely.
That means barring injury, Reilly, Folin and Nate Prosser could be fighting for two spots. Folin and Prosser require waivers to get to the minors. At Folin’s age, it’s hard to imagine the Wild would risk losing Folin to another team via waivers.
If Folin or Prosser did slide through waivers, the Wild would have to pay them their NHL salaries of $725,000 and $625,000, respectively, in Iowa.
Reilly, on the other hand, is easy to send down. He doesn’t require waivers and his $925,000 NHL salary would be sliced to $70,000.
In the NHL, the reality is contracts often determine roster decisions. But GM Chuck Fletcher vows that won’t happen here.
“The best six defensemen will be here,” said Fletcher, referring to the fact that at least one of those three should be in the opening night lineup. “Mike Reilly’s going to be a heck of a hockey player. His skill set is a skill set I personally feel we need on our team, but it’s up to Mike. Is he ready to contribute? If he is, I have a hard time believing he won’t be in the top-6.”
If Reilly earns a job out of camp, Fletcher says, “Depending if we’re healthy, maybe there’s other moves that could impact the defense group. We have some flexibility to do some things if we need to do them. Our only focus is having the most competitive team we can and the depth of our defense is a positive area for this franchise.”
Camp is only two days old, but coach Bruce Boudreau has already made a point to tell both Reilly and Folin how pleased he has been with their play.
Reilly’s rookie year was a combination of growing pains and flashes of solid play. He had a rough start in Iowa, but his game improved and he ended up playing 29 games with the Wild.
His ability to get up and down the ice is elite, and he already may be the Wild’s best defenseman at walking the blue line to create shots. Assistant coach Scott Stevens has already noticed that attribute, along with his vision, speed and “nice, firm pass.”
“He doesn’t make soft, lazy passes,” said the Hall of Fame defenseman. “I like that.”
Reilly, who also worked out with Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and James van Riemsdyk this summer and recently did high altitude training in Vail, Colo., feels like he belongs after a full year of watching and learning.
“You’ve got to come in each day and you really can’t take a day off, especially being a young guy,” Reilly said. “I see a lot of defensemen that are my age and even younger than me that are doing well in this league.
“So, now is the time. I know my inexperience showed at times last year, but I feel the more repetition I got, the less I thought on the ice and just played the game and not worried about systems. It started to come natural.
“I definitely think I have a great opportunity to be here. The coaches, just looking at their history, could fit my game pretty well. And it’s already been awesome working with [Stevens]. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason. I just listen close to what he says and things like that can elevate my career and help me be a two-way player.”
Folin, who has — for now — shaved his trademark bushy beard, spent his first summer in six years in his native Sweden. He knows this is a huge year for him.
“I’ve learned a lot about my role and how I need to play to be successful,” said the 6-foot-3 right-shot defenseman. “I’m more comfortable in myself and the environment, and I’m ready to perform at the highest level.”
Fletcher said forward Tomas Fleischmann, who failed his physical due to a medical issue, will not attend training camp.