The old Zucker Expressway or I-35Z, as it was dubbed because of the amount of times Jason Zucker used to travel the 235-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between the Twin Cities and Des Moines might have to be renamed for Mike Reilly this season.
As he did Tuesday night for the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate against Grand Rapids, the Wild defenseman could see a lot of action for Iowa depending on if coach Bruce Boudreau wants him in the big club’s lineup on a given night.
Boudreau indicated Tuesday, a day after Reilly was assigned to Iowa, that his assignment would be very temporary.
One game after a tough season-opening performance in St. Louis, Reilly was a healthy scratch Saturday against Winnipeg. Christian Folin was inserted and played well in a victory, so Boudreau decided to go with the same lineup Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Instead of scratching Reilly again, the Wild thought it would be smarter for him to play for Iowa.
“You don’t want young guys sitting when you have the opportunity to have them play,” Boudreau said. “[Des Moines] is only a few hours down the road.”
Boudreau said there will come a juncture where Reilly’s “play [will] dictate where he is.”
For Reilly to become an everyday NHL defenseman, he must become more efficient in his own zone. As a rookie last year, he played 29 games for Minnesota and 45 for Iowa, where he was a league-low minus-27.
“I think he just has to be stronger on the man, stronger on the puck,” Boudreau said. “His offensive game is really quite good. He’s got a great offensive mind, but like any young defenseman — and this is not just Mike, it’s any young defenseman in the NHL — it takes you a good couple hundred games to learn how to play defense. Him not being the biggest guy, he’s got to learn his angles and how he’s going to keep guys away from the front of the net.”
Eriksson Ek joins Iowa
After a long travel day that included a flight cancellation and multiple flight delays in Ottawa and Toronto, rookie Joel Eriksson Ek, whose work visa finally was approved, arrived in Minnesota on Monday night.
He quickly packed, checked out of his hotel, grabbed his equipment from the arena and took a 10 p.m. car service to Iowa, where he arrived in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Still, he made his North American professional debut for the Baby Wild on Tuesday night and scored a goal.
How long he remains in Iowa is the question. Eriksson Ek, 19, played despite not practicing in a week, but at some point the Wild wants him to make his NHL debut, whether that comes Thursday against Toronto or on the upcoming four-game road trip.
Power-play role for Scandella
With Reilly in the minors, defenseman Marco Scandella played the power play for a second game in a row. Scandella hasn’t played full-time on the power play since his AHL days in Houston.
“I know I’m capable of being there,” Scandella said.
Boudreau said, “He’s got a great shot, and I think once he starts to get a little more comfortable on the power play, if he gets that shot through, a lot of times it’s not going to be stopped. When you have a guy that can really shoot the puck on the point, it sort of makes the other team a little bit leery about getting out there and blocking them.”