The phone call came late Tuesday night, from a Minnesota number. Mike Reilly’s mind raced for a moment, knowing calls at that hour often carry bad news.
This one brought a happy surprise. Reilly, a former Gophers defenseman who grew up in Chanhassen, was being called up by the Wild for the first time in his fledgling pro career. After arranging for a driver to ferry him from Des Moines to the Twin Cities — and hitting the road at 6 a.m. — he arrived in time for Wednesday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center, reuniting with players who helped him in training camp before he was sent to the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa.
Reilly, 22, is unlikely to make his NHL debut Thursday when the Wild plays Toronto to open a two-game homestand. Coach Mike Yeo wanted to give him the chance to work with NHL players and coaches, as well as “a chance to hit the reset button’’ on a challenging season. Over the first 23 games of Iowa’s schedule, he has two goals, seven assists and is an AHL-worst minus-23 for an abysmal team that has won only three games.
“Once I picked up the phone, I was very excited to realize I was going to come up here,’’ Reilly said. “To get that call was awesome.
“The message is just to come in and practice and do well and just be ready to go. I’ve just got to be ready if my number is called. I don’t know if I’ll be in, but I’ve got to prepare every day like I’m going to be in the lineup.’’
Reilly made a good impression on the Wild during training camp after signing as a free agent last summer. His transition to pro hockey, however, has not been easy.
He still is adapting to a schedule that features more games, fewer practices and less time to rest, a major change from his three seasons with the Gophers. Iowa’s poor record has worn on him and his teammates, and its lineup has had little stability thanks to the Wild’s frequent call-ups. Despite all that, Reilly said he has learned much in Iowa and is slowly improving.
Though Yeo isn’t sure when Reilly will play his first NHL game, he said he wants him to be around the Wild as much as possible.
“We just want to get him up here and get him in with the group, get him practicing,’’ Yeo said. “My message to him is pretty simple. I don’t want him focusing on whether he’s in the lineup or out of the lineup; I want him focusing on that drill he’s doing. We’ll be keeping a real close eye on him, seeing where he’s at and what we can do to help him.
“I think the practice time, the practice reps with our group, it’s just a good opportunity for him to be here, clear his head and take advantage of every day.’’
Yeo isn’t alarmed by Reilly’s plus-minus, knowing it is likely skewed by Iowa’s struggles this season. But he said there are areas of his game that need to “tighten up,’’ and those will be addressed during his time with the Wild. Reilly, a mobile, puck-moving defenseman, said he is working to improve his defense while not compromising his offensive gifts.
As Reilly continues to adapt to a faster, more physical style of play, Yeo also wants him to learn from observing games and video. Wild defenseman Nate Prosser said the team’s veterans will lend a hand, too.
“We’ll show him the ropes on and off the ice, making sure he’s preparing the right way and taking care of details,’’ Prosser said. “He blended in real nice during camp and fit in well in the locker room. Everyone really embraced him when we saw him [Wednesday] morning. He’s a guy we’d like to have around.’’
• Defenseman Christian Folin was sent to Iowa on Wednesday, a move Yeo said was made to get Folin more playing time.
• Center Tyler Graovac participated in Wednesday’s practice. Graovac, who has missed 22 games after surgery to repair a core muscle, wore a red no-contact jersey and took part in some drills, as well as a limited amount of special-teams work. Yeo said Graovac’s return to the lineup is still “a ways away.’’