If, for some reason, you are not following Columbus Blue Jackets prospect news, then you're missing what could very well become the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, part II. Which is to say: another offensive defenceman is leaving college after his junior year, (potentially) spurning the club that drafted him to test the market.
This isn't Kenney Morrison leaving college after three seasons to sign with the Calgary Flames as a free agent; no NHL team was holding his rights, and he was free to sign with whomever he pleased. He got in a couple of AHL games, played well, and his contract starts next season, where he will have a chance to earn an NHL roster spot.
No, this is a kid who was drafted, and while he has not officially burned bridges with the club that first took a chance on him, it sure sounds like it's going that way.
One team's loss could be another's gain, though, and that gain could be the Flames'.
Who is Mike Reilly?
Reilly is a 21-year-old - although he'll be 22 by the start of next season - 6'1, 183 lb. defenceman from Minnesota. The Blue Jackets selected him in the fourth round, 98th overall, of the 2011 NHL entry draft. (Johnny Gaudreau was selected six picks later.)
He attended Shattuck-St. Mary's in his pre-draft year, scoring 14 goals and 48 points over 54 games. Then, after being drafted, he played for the BCHL's Penticton Vees for one season, scoring 24 goals and 83 points over 51 games. (He's similar to Schultz in this aspect; while Schultz played in the BCHL prior to getting drafted, he spent an extra year there that ultimately allowed him to test free agency a year earlier.)
Reilly then moved on to college, where he played for the University of Minnesota. Over three seasons, he scored 18 goals and 89 points over 117 games. In his freshman year, he helped Team USA win gold at the World Juniors. He was named the Big Ten's best defensive player of the year in his sophomore season. His junior year was his best offensively, and the first time in college he was over a point per game: 42 points over 39 games.
His penalty minutes shot up in his junior year as well; while he had a combined 32 PIM in his first two seasons, he had 44 in his third alone.
Most recently, Reilly has played for Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Championships, where he helped his country win bronze. He scored one assist over 10 games.
Now, he's an upcoming free agent.
Where does he want to go?
Reilly has not said he won't sign with Columbus, just that he wants to see what else is out there. That tends to be a sign that he won't be staying with the team who drafted him. At minimum, it's a sign he'll be engaging suitors.
So when Reilly opts to "see what's out there" on the UFA market, it's all about the organization and its depth chart, not term and money.— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) May 17, 2015
This sounds similar to the Corban Knight situation, when the Florida Panthers draft pick didn't want to sign with the team because he felt they were too deep at centre, and it would take him longer to make the NHL.
As the Flames stand today, they are thin on defence. Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie form an outstanding top pairing, but after that, things turn into a chaotic mess. Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman were not adequate as a second pairing, as they were constantly outshot despite favourable conditions.
When Giordano went down, Deryk Engelland became a top four defenceman. That's pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect to happen for a team with defensive depth. Brad Treliving acknowledged his blueline was thin in his season-ending presser, and the Flames' defence will definitely be a target for improvement this offseason.
That could mean a spot for Reilly, or at least a chance to earn one. While the Flames have six defencemen signed for next season - the aforementined five, plus Ladislav Smid, who may or may not still be injured - they probably won't stand pat. Trades happen. There are some good defencemen available in this year's free agency period, and the Flames have cap space to spare to sign one of them. Guys like Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenney Morrison, and maybe even John Ramage or Ryan Culkin could be pushing for a spot. And that's to say nothing if Raphael Diaz or David Schlemko are brought back.
That's a potential 12 or 13 guys who could be competing for six or seven spots to open the season, which is daunting; especially for someone who seems to want to be in the NHL sooner rather than later. The Flames can't guarantee him that - nor should they - so he may be out on Calgary.
At least here, he wouldn't be Schultz'd
When Justin Schultz chose to go to Edmonton, he was going to a team with several high draft picks that couldn't quite put it together, one of the reasons being a lack of defencemen. Schultz in Edmonton meant he'd be getting big NHL minutes right off the bat.
It has not really worked out for him or the team, and Schultz has been a disaster defensively.
Should Reilly end up in Calgary, any defensive shortcomings he may have - and while he can clearly move pucks and put up points, scouting reports have been wary of his defensive abilities (although he is apparently a great shot blocker, which sounds, well, familiar) - don't necessarily have to be exploited.
The Flames have, arguably, one of the best top pairings in the league. A healthy Giordano and Brodie combination can shelter any rookie defenceman, and Reilly could be given offensive zone starts against lesser competition, and probably work his way onto the powerplay pretty quickly.
In short, should Reilly choose the Flames and make the team, the Calgary blueline has just enough depth to put him in a position to succeed.
That same Calgary blueline is just thin enough to potentially be enticing to a soon-to-be young free agent defenceman. (Being a rebuilding team that won a game in the second round of the playoffs probably doesn't hurt, either.) And make no mistake about it: the Flames need good, young, NHL-ready defencemen, and they need them badly. Reilly could be an immediate, free solution.
The Flames have been on all sides of this
They've been spurned by a drafted prospect refusing to sign with them, when Tim Erixon did just that two years after the Flames drafted him 23rd overall. That actually worked out for Calgary, though: the Flames got Roman Horak, Markus Granlund, and Tyler Wotherspoon out of the deal. Erixon is currently on his fifth NHL organization.
They've been sweepstakes winners when they convinced Corban Knight to sign with them, and they traded a fourth round pick for his rights to the Florida Panthers. Knight was immediately given the low number of 10, hinting an expectation he'd make the team out of camp, but he never did. Hilariously enough, Knight was refusing to sign with the Panthers because he felt they were too deep at centre and he wouldn't be able to make the NHL; not only did Knight fail to make the NHL with the Flames, but he was dealt back to the Panthers in exchange for Drew Shore.
They've also been sweepstakes losers. In the 2013-14 collegiate hockey season, Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes formed the best line in all of college hockey. With Hayes refusing to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks - the team that drafted him - there was speculation he would come to Calgary. Both his linemates were already members of the Flames organization, and as a right winger, he would have faced very little competition for a roster spot. He ultimately signed with the New York Rangers.