BROSSARD, Que. — If things had gone markedly well for Mike Reilly with the Minnesota Wild, he’d still be with them and not in Montreal with the Canadiens.
The good news for the 24-year-old defenceman, who was traded to the Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick on Monday, is that he’ll get more of an opportunity to prove himself in Montreal than he did in Minnesota.
The Wild have a crowded blue line — chock full of strong, complete players — and it’s clear they had a bit less time for what Reilly brings to the table.
"I think I like to use my speed and make good passes up to the forwards," said Reilly after his first practice with the Canadiens on Tuesday. "I think I have a good stick and can close on gaps and do things like that. Not the most physical guy, but I can try to get away with my skating and things like tight gaps, good sticks. And I think I’ve got an underrated shot, too."
But if he had a bit more of an all-around game, things might have worked out differently with the Wild.
That explains why he was used in only 38 of their 62 games this season — and in just 46 more in his first two professional seasons that followed an illustrious three-year run at the University of Minnesota.
But things could be different for Reilly in Montreal. With 20 games remaining — and with the Canadiens all but mathematically eliminated from post-season contention — the evaluation process is well underway and Reilly won’t have to wait for his first chance. He’ll pull on No. 28 and face the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre on Wednesday.
It’s a fresh start for a player who could probably use one.
"He was a healthy scratch on most nights in Minnesota," read a text to Sportsnet from a Western Conference pro scout. "But he can skate and move the puck and maybe he can develop."
There’s room for a player like that on Montreal’s blue line.
"I think that resembles a lot what we’re talking about [with Canadiens defenceman] Victor Mete," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. "Good skater, good stick, smart player, heady player, and in today’s game I think you need a lot more of that to move the puck out of your own end. And, at the same time, I think we’ve got complements of certain players who are a little bit more defensive-minded, a little bit more physical and we’ve got a real important one missing right now in [Shea] Weber. So I think there’s a decent balance there and I remember Washington in one of their best years that’s what they had."
With Weber injured, Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn are filling the defensive-minded roles for the Canadiens, and 20-year old Noah Juulsen is working his way in. The 19-year-old Mete and veteran Jeff Petry are locked into the offensive roles and that puts Reilly in competition with veteran David Schlemko.
Before scoring four goals and 14 assists in his 84 games as a depth defenceman with the Wild, he showed considerable offensive potential in the AHL, where he scored 10 goals and 43 assists in 103 games with the Iowa Wild. That was very much a continuation of what he did at U of M — and at the 2013 World Junior Championship, where he helped the United States capture gold.
"He’s a really skilled defenceman," said Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk, who played with Reilly on the world junior team. "He was running our power play and he was one of the best defencemen at the tournament so it’s nice to have him here."
Reilly is quite thrilled about it, too.
"It’s obviously an unbelievable city and historic franchise, a city that wants a winning team on the ice for sure and that comes with the pressure," said Reilly. "But I’m excited to be here. Minnesota’s the hotbed of hockey but this is obviously on another level so I’m excited for the opportunity."
He’s under contract at $725,000 per season through to the end of the 2018-19 season, so the Canadiens will have to hope he can make the best out of it.