Mike Reilly is getting a head start on free agency.
The former Gophers defenseman arrived at the NHL combine in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday to meet with a handful of teams through Friday.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted Reilly 98th overall in 2011, have an exclusive window until June 15 to sign him to a two-year, entry-level contract. Reilly, who unregistered from college in May to trigger his route to free agency, would have then been permitted to talk the 29 other teams before officially being allowed to sign somewhere July 1.
However, the Blue Jackets gave the 21-year-old permission to talk with “a limited number of teams” before then, NHL sources say.
Reilly will meet this week with the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks. The New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings also are believed to be showing interest in the 2015 Hobey Baker Award finalist and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Blue Jackets have been told they’re still in the mix, but Reilly repeatedly balked at signing with them the past two offseasons.
Since entry-level parameters are all but set, it will come down to which team Reilly sees as the best fit.
The Blackhawks could be selling him as the eventual Nick Leddy replacement. They dealt Leddy to the Islanders before this past season in a salary-cap move, and the Blackhawks, short on defensemen despite being in the Stanley Cup Final, again will be in a severe cap crunch in a couple of weeks. They have yet to re-sign potential restricted free agent Brandon Saad, meaning defenseman Johnny Oduya could be gone in free agency and there’s a possibility they would trade Brent Seabrook.
As for the Wild, Reilly, a native of Chanhassen, will have to decide if there’s a door open to eventually wear his hometown NHL sweater. Defensemen Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella are signed long-term. Jared Spurgeon has one more year left on his contract before he will command a long-term extension. If the Wild decides it can’t commit to that, Spurgeon could be traded this summer (potentially around the June 26-27 draft), next season or next summer.
Spurgeon is one of the Wild’s best defensemen, but right-shot Matt Dumba has one more year left on his contract and could be a long-term replacement.
Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson and Dylan Labbe are the Wild’s best professional blue line prospects excluding Dumba, but Olofsson played only one game for the Iowa Wild last season before season-ending shoulder surgery.
Reilly’s father, Mike Sr., is a minority investor with the Wild’s ownership group.
In three years with the Gophers, Reilly scored 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games. He led NCAA defensemen his junior season with 42 points and was the first Gophers defenseman to lead the team in scoring since Mike Crowley tallied 56 points in 1996-97.
Reilly has been busy since the Gophers’ season ended. He helped lead the United States to a bronze medal at the world championships and just returned from a three-week trip to China with his brothers and former Gophers teammates Connor and Ryan.