Mike Reilly's NHL debut may finally be upon us.
The former Gophers defenseman swapped places with veteran Tyson Strachan this morning and coach Mike Yeo indicated that "there seems like a really good chance" the 22-year-old plays his first NHL game Saturday night against the Dallas Stars.
Nate Prosser, who has missed two games with a hand injury, practiced during the Wild's very optional skate this morning in St. Paul, but Yeo indicated that Prosser is questionable against the Stars. Yeo said Reilly's recall has nothing to do with Marco Scandella's crash into the end boards last night. Scandella didn't miss a shift shockingly enough (his left leg seemed to turn a direction it's not supposed to) and Yeo said Scandella is good to go Saturday.
"I want to see him show us what he's got … if he plays," Yeo 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."
Reilly said the phone call he got late last night was very different than the one he received in early December with his first callup. Reilly spent a week with the Wild. He practiced but didn't play three games, still getting to go on his first road trip. But Reilly pretty much knew he likely wasn't going to play, that the promotion from Iowa was to allow him to take a deep breath and reset after a tough start on struggling Iowa.
"I don’t know for sure if I’m in, but there seems like a really good chance," Reilly said. "I’ve been working hard for this. I feel like the last few weeks down there have been a lot better. I’m feeling like myself."
The Iowa Wild has won three of four games. Reilly has scored five goals and is second on the Baby Wild with 18 points in 32 games this season. He ranks tied for first on the team with three power-play goals, second in scoring and assists (13), fourth in shots on goal (65) and his point total ranks fourth amongst AHL rookie defensemen.
He is last in the AHL though with a minus-26.
But he said things have started to click in Iowa in large part to centers Tyler Graovac and Grayson Downing being healthy and Jordan Schroeder being back.
He indicated the better play up front has made things a lot easier for the defensemen, who according to everybody I've talked to are usually under siege down there retreating, retrieving pucks and getting smacked in the glass.
The Stars are 2-3-1 in their past six but have beaten the Wild three times this season, twice in overtime and the last couple after the Wild blew two-goal and three-goal leads.
They lead the NHL with 146 goals and 3.40 goals per game.
So, the Wild's could be throwing Reilly right into the fire.
"We have confidence in the players that we have here," 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 said it shoudl be a speed game and Reilly could help the Wild execute.
"Certainly you have to be able to defend against that team and that’s going to be a big part of the game," Yeo said. "If we can get to the game of playing in the offensive zone, then that would help us an awful lot."
Reilly said, "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. 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."
Reilly was the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker finalist. He was born in suburban Chicago but grew up in Minnesota.
He is a mobile, offensively-skilled, puck rusher who became the first Gophers defenseman to lead the team in scoring last season since Mike Crowley in 1996-97. He led all NCAA defensemen with 42 points, tied for third among all NCAA players with 36 assists (led defensemen), 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.
In other news, Darcy Kuemper is feeling himself after being concussed from a puck to the mask in the same Dec. 27 practice that Devan Dubnyk's wrist got cut. Kuemper joked it was a "bad practice for the goalies."
He said he's feeling good. He said Saturday's morning skate will be big and may determine if he can start Sunday's game at home against New Jersey. This was only his second skate with the guys.
"I feel ready," Kuemper said.
On another subject, Thomas Vanek is really struggling right now.
Yeo said he was under the weather against Columbus and you could see the effects against Philadelphia, but Yeo said, "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. He was creating a lot off his shot."
In Vanek's first 22 games, he had 49 shots (2.2 a game) and had 10 goals and nine assists.
In 18 games since Nov. 28, Vanek has 31 shots (1.7 a game) and has two goals (one of which is an empty-netter) and five assists.
In the past 10 games, he has no goals with a goalie in net.
Talk to you from Dallas.