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Wild's Mike Reilly starting to prove he belongs in NHL

Minnesota Wild defensemen Mike Reilly (4) skates with the puck Oct. 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL — A couple of weeks after betting on himself, saying there was "no question" he belonged in the NHL, Wild defenseman Mike Reilly is starting to prove it.

Reilly has four points in eight games this season, and more importantly, hasn't looked out of place, which wasn't always the case early in his career.

"I'm definitely a full-time guy now," Reilly said a couple weeks ago. "I definitely believe that, and I definitely can make an impact and help this team win."

Reilly, 24, showcased that in Saturday's 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. After a speedy rush into the zone, he cycled the puck before finding it back on his stick with just a moment to think about his next move. He kept his eyes up and flipped a pinpoint pass that Mikko Koivu redirected past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray for the winning goal.

Asked to break down the play, the former Gophers standout from Chanhassen struggled a little bit, largely because it was such a natural play for him.

Reilly wasn't thinking when he was making the play. He was simply reacting to what he saw.

"We kept the pressure on them in the zone and I felt like I had some time and they were kind of scrumming around so I tried to find a stick and Mikko made a good play and put it five hole," he said. "I'm just trying to find a stick there. That is such a dangerous play because it's so hard for the goalie to react."

While coach Bruce Boudreau was obviously satisfied with the end result, it was the process that got him so excited.

"You know, that play he made to Mikko was great," Boudreau said. "It was the buildup of that play that I thought was really special the other night."

Reilly parlayed that rock-solid effort into another good performance in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. He was reliable on both ends on a night when fellow defenseman Matt Dumba got benched because of his poor play.

Boudreau said he can tell Reilly is gaining confidence with each game. Watching the way he moves the puck throughout the neutral zone, he looks like a different player than earlier in his career.

"He's skating with the puck better because I think he feels like he's (here to stay)," Boudreau said. "He's not like, 'Oh, if I make a mistake, then bad things are going to happen.' "

Reilly knows that even more now that the team is finally starting to get healthy. As the only waiver-exempt blue liner, he has been sent down to the minors twice as the team worked to to clear salary cap space to field a complete roster up front.

While he understood that it had nothing to do with the way he was playing, Reilly said it still stung whenever he was relegated to the minors.

That, however, appears to be a thing of the past, and now Reilly is focused on moving forward.

"Yeah, I'm feeling good," Reilly said. "Whoever I'm playing with has been talking to me a lot. I've been with (Kyle Quincey) the last couple games, and he's been very vocal to me and communicative with me. He's telling me to skate with it and move my feet and play my game. I'm just feeling confident. Hopefully I can keep it rolling."

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