DALLAS – If Mike Reilly makes his NHL debut Saturday night against the Dallas Stars, the young defenseman won't be able to dip his toe in the water.
The former Gopher will be up against the top-scoring team in the NHL and the league's two leading goal scorers.
"We have confidence in the players that we have here," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We don't call them up if we don't think they're ready or if they have the ability to come in and help and contribute. If there was a concern on that, he wouldn't be here."
Yeo indicated Reilly has a good chance to play. With Nate Prosser still ailing because of an injured hand (Prosser did practice Friday), Reilly swapped spots with veteran Tyson Strachan. Yeo did say Marco Scandella, who experienced a scary crash into the end wall Thursday against Philadelphia, is fine and will play.
Reilly, 22, is an American Hockey League-worst minus-26 this season for the Iowa Wild, but he's second on the team in scoring with 18 points in 32 games. That's fourth among AHL rookie defensemen. He's tied for first on Iowa with three power-play goals, second in scoring, second with 13 assists and fourth with 65 shots.
The Stars, 3-0 against the Wild this season, lead the NHL with 3.4 goals per game. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin each have 24 goals and rank second and third in the NHL, respectively, with 52 and 51 points.
But the Wild, which has blown three- and two-goal leads to the Stars this season and lost twice in overtime, feels Reilly's fast, mobile game could help get the puck out of the defensive zone and on the offensive attack.
Reilly was the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker finalist. Last season, while leading NCAA defensemen with 42 points, he became the first Gophers defenseman to lead the team in scoring last season since Mike Crowley in 1996-97.
"I follow the league and see who's doing well, and obviously Dallas is a fast team, a lot of offense and can make plays, so definitely a team we want to knock off," Reilly said. "They're at the top of the standings. I think with my skating ability hopefully can fit into that game and just try to go out there and be myself."
When Reilly got the call late Thursday, he was packing movies for Iowa's upcoming road trip, a team duty designated to rookies. Reilly was recalled early last month, but he said this phone call was very different. In December, with Reilly struggling and the Baby Wild coming off a winless November, management wanted to get Reilly out of Iowa so he could practice with the Wild and mentally reset.
He worked a lot with assistant coach Rick Wilson and sat in the press box watching three games with assistant coach Darryl Sydor. Reilly said he returned to Iowa feeling refreshed.
"I've been working hard for this," Reilly said. "I feel like the last few weeks down there have been a lot better. I'm feeling like myself."
What does Yeo want to see from Reilly?
"I want to see him show us what he's got … if he plays," the coach said. "At this point, he should be pretty familiar with the type of game we want to play structure-wise, system-wise, our philosophy in what we're looking for from our defensemen.
"With young players coming up, you get one chance to play your first NHL game and if [Saturday] is his opportunity, then I want him to take advantage of it and play to make a difference."
Yeo called Saturday's game against the NHL-leading Stars a "good test." Devan Dubnyk will start in goal, but if Darcy Kuemper feels good after the morning skate, there's a chance he returns from a concussion and starts Sunday's home game against New Jersey.
The Wild had a very optional practice Friday. One player who didn't skate was struggling Thomas Vanek, who has been under the weather the past few days. In Vanek's first 22 games, he had 10 goals, nine assists and 49 shots (2.2 a game). In 18 games since Nov. 28, he has two goals (one an empty-netter), five assists and 31 shots (1.7 a game).
"I just feel he's not skating like he was earlier and he's certainly not shooting the puck as much as he was earlier," Yeo said. "He was creating a lot off his shot."