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Wild had what Reilly wanted: potential, opportunity

By Chad Graff St. Paul Pioneer Press The Wild's first task when free agency begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday will be their easiest. Even before the busiest day of the NHL offseason begins, the Wild already know they've made a splash. Shortly after 11 a.m.

By Chad Graff

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Wild’s first task when free agency begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday will be their easiest. Even before the busiest day of the NHL offseason begins, the Wild already know they’ve made a splash.

Shortly after 11 a.m., Mike Reilly will make official what’s been known since last Friday: The former Gophers All-American defenseman will become the Wild’s first free agent acquisition when he signs the dotted line of a two-year, $1.85 million contract.

It will be the official finale to a busy six weeks since Reilly declared he wouldn’t be returning for his senior season. Since then, he has played for the U.S. in the World Championships, toured China with his two brothers (who also play for the Gophers), become an unrestricted free agent by declining to sign with the team that drafted him in 2011, and chosen the Wild over a dozen suitors seeking to sign the talented blue liner.

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“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” Reilly said.

Most prominently, that whirlwind featured a decision.

When Reilly declined to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he became a college free agent. That meant he could sign anywhere, but for no more than the two-year, two-way $1.85 million deal he’ll sign with the Wild Wednesday.

With the money being equal, Reilly chose his team entirely on fit, eventually choosing the hometown Wild over Stanley Cup champions the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I just felt comfortable with the way they were heading,” Reilly said. “The coaching staff seems very smart, and they have a lot of good ‘D’ coaches, too. They’re bound to win. They are one of the few teams that has gone to the second round of the playoffs the last two years. They’re right on the cusp, for sure.”

A call from Wild star Zach Parise didn’t hurt either.

Reilly had skated with Parise before and bumped into him here and there. But, even as the Wild courted Reilly, the call from Parise took him aback.

“He has so many great things to say about Minnesota and how excited he is for the future,” Reilly said. “I know he loves it here. He has nothing bad to say. Unbelievable fans, he said, and I always knew that, too, from growing up here.”

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Reilly may be the most enticing name the Wild ink Wednesday during the flurry of signings that come on the opening day of free agency. Barring a trade, the Wild have little cap space and are only expected to add a couple veteran skaters.

They could use a couple fourth line forwards and perhaps a defenseman to add depth and compete with Reilly for a position on the team. But Reilly was the Wild’s biggest target, which explains the call from Parise.

“He had some good insight,” Reilly said. “Obviously, a lot of people look up to him for a reason, so for him to reach out to me means a lot. He’s a role model on and off the ice for a lot of young kids in Minnesota.”

Reilly, 21, was born in Chicago but grew up in Chanhassen. His parents are Lisa and Mike, a minority owner of the Wild. He played two seasons of high school hockey with The Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield before spending a year at Shattuck St. Mary’s and eventually committing the U, where he spent the past three seasons.

He led the Gophers in points (42) and assists (36) in 39 games last season. Because the Blue Jackets had his rights for four years without signing him, Reilly had the option to move on.

The transition to the NHL is difficult for any young defenseman, but he will be given a fair chance to make the team out of training camp.

“What he does well, he does very well,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Like any young player, there are going to be some parts of his game that we have to work with him on and try to improve. But I think we’ve showed in the past that we’ve been able to develop young players in the NHL. So if he’s able to make our team, then good for him.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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