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Defensive Prospect Mike Reilly Snubs Columbus

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Hobey Baker finalist Mike Reilly has decided to walk away from Columbus and become a free agent. Should the Oilers make a run at him?

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News broke today that former Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly would not be signing with the team that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Much like Justin Schultz did in 2012, Reilly became an Unrestricted Free Agent effective yesterday, June 16th, but it has only become clear now that he will not be a Blue Jacket.

Blue Jackets star centre Ryan Johansen had this to say on the matter:

Bitter, are we?

The 21 year-old defenceman spent the previous three seasons with the University of Minnesota where he posted impressive totals, including 6-36-42 in 39 GP during the 2014-2015 season to lead the team in scoring. At 6-foot-1 and 182 lbs, he also has an NHL-friendly frame to grow into.

In conversation with Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Minnesota coach Don Lucia had this to say about Reilly:

"Mike has things you can’t teach ... Elite hands, vision … He thinks the game so well. His feet are really good. He’s one of those kids who is a late bloomer physically, and there’s still room for him to get stronger."

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HobeyBaker.com added to those accolades as well:

As the highest scoring defenseman in the nation, Reilly is a slick playmaker who has 36 assists, tied for second overall in the nation. Particularly dangerous with the man advantage, Reilly has 21 points on the power play, also tied for 2nd in the nation. For the second straight year, he was honored by the Big Ten as Defensive Player of the Year and First Team all-conference.

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Earlier in month, Bob McKenzie listed Edmonton as one of nine teams meeting with Reilly to discuss a contract.

Recently, however, NHL.com failed to mention Edmonton as a team in the running for Reilly, though their list shouldn't be taken as absolutely exhaustive. Anything can happen.

The appeal of acquiring Reilly is obvious. While he's a left-handed shot—the same as young defencemen Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom—any team who signs Reilly is getting a player who has developed well beyond the expectations set when he was drafted at 98th overall, weighing in at a gangly 155 lbs.

That team will also be getting that player without giving up a single asset, save for a roster spot and the cap space it will cost to sign him to an entry level contract. Chances are that contract will be rich with bonuses as each team vying for his services will be looking to gain an upper-hand over the other suitors, but just like the Justin Schultz saga, all teams are limited to the maximum salary with bonuses permitted on an entry level contract.

Mike Reilly would, in theory, be able to come in and compete for a job on the 2015-2016 Edmonton Oilers. With one or both of Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference gone next season, the Oilers defensive depth chart could look something like this heading into the season:

1-2D acquisition - Mark Fayne

Oscar Klefbom - Justin Schultz

Martin Marincin - 5-6D acquisiton

With Darnell Nurse likely making a push at camp as well, the Oilers are still confronted with a bit of a traffic jam on the left side as Marincin, Nurse and Reilly (should he be acquired) are all left-handed. The likelier outcome is that Reilly joins the Oilers system and starts the season with the Condors, getting accustomed to the pro game.

Oilers fans might be skeptical of acquiring another defensive prospect who went the college route and shirked his draft team. Justin Schultz, who went through the same process after refusing to sign with Anaheim, the team that drafted him in the second round, started strong in the AHL in his rookie season, winning Defenceman of the Year honours in that league, before continuing on to the NHL and disappointing fans and the organization alike. His offence has plateaued and his defensive game has failed to come together, making him a constant liability.

Reilly, while a promising player, isn't the offensive force that Schultz was at Wisconsin. In Schultz' final year of college hockey, he managed 1.19 points-per-game over 39 games on a team that scored 105 goals during the regular season, meaning Schultz factored in on approximately 42% of his team's offence. Reilly, on the other hand, scored at a 1.08 point-per-game clip on a Minnesota team that scored 137 regular season goals—he factored in on approximately 31% of his team's offensive output. He also scored 6 goals compared to Schultz' 16 in their final college seasons.

But these are two different players, and it must be stressed that this is a prospect trending very well four years after his draft year—one who can be acquired and signed without spending any assets. That's found poetry, friends. We'll have to wait and see how things shake out with Mike Reilly.