A top Blue Jackets prospect remains unsigned

Minnesota Duluth goalie Aaron Crandall (right) stops a shot by Minnesota defenseman and Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly (left) during the second period of the North Star College Cup championship game in St. Paul, Minn.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

With the high expectations of the season left unfulfilled with merely 17 games remaining, the focus off-ice is turning towards the NHL draft in June and also on signing players that are still unsigned. A shining example of the latter would be University of Minnesota junior and defenseman Mike Reilly.

Reilly, selected in the fourth round (98 overall) of the 2011 draft by the Blue Jackets, remains unsigned by the team. He’s recorded 6-32-38 in 34 games for Minnesota this season. The 6’1", 182 pound native of Chanhassen, Minnesota could become an unrestricted free agent this summer if he decides to forego his senior year of collegiate eligibility and not sign with Columbus.

The reason the UFA-status comes into play is because of him playing for the Penticton Vees (BCHL) in 2011-12, recording 24-59-83 in 51 games. He’s done well since that time, earning as a sophomore First Team All-Big Ten honors, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors. This year, he’s the first defenseman to lead the team in scoring since 1996-97. He’s also in the Hobey Baker Award conversation.

"First things first," said Blue Jackets assistant general manager Chris MacFarland, "he’s a high-end, offensive puck-moving defenseman. He can really skate and push the play. He’s an exciting player to watch and does a lot of things to help you get out of the zone. He has a good ability to alleviate the pressure and make plays. That’s another, potentially very exciting add for us."

"Potentially" is italicized to highlight that the organization does not consider this a done deal, but instead stresses that if Mike Reilly signs, the future gets even brighter for the Blue Jackets. Does this mean that the team is putting any undue pressure on Reilly? No, it does not. Everyone that has been asked in Columbus’ front office, from President of Hockey Operations John Davidson on down, has said they look forward to getting the young prospect signed.  

Two reasons why he might not sign this spring are that he either does not want to play in Columbus (unlikely) or that he wants to play another year with his twin brothers. With the trade of defenseman James Wisniewski to the Anaheim Ducks last Monday, this may open the door in the young Reilly’s thought process about whether or not to sign with the Blue Jackets.

"He’s got all the skill in the world," MacFarland continued. "Like any other young player, he has things to work on; getting stronger and maturing physically. The stuff that you can’t teach is that explosive speed and that ability to just glide on the ice when you watch him. From that standpoint, he’s a real exciting player for us."

The potential of adding a player of the caliber and skill of Mike Reilly makes this one of the more important decisions that is, in essence, out of the hands of the Blue Jackets. The team sees him as part of the long-term plans on the blue line to enhance the players that are already there. Imagine Reilly in a top-four defensive pairing role to compliment the likes of Ryan Murray.

MacFarland, who is also general manager of the Springfield Falcons, also addressed Kerby Rychel’s development in both locales this year.

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"Kerby’s been fine," he said. "Like any young player, there are ups and downs in your first pro season. He got a taste (NHL) early in the year and I thought he performed pretty well. The key for Kerby was that he earned the right to come up here. That’s something that we preach to our kids. When he came up here, he played well.

"He’s banged up right now and currently out of the lineup, but hopefully he’ll be back pretty soon. He’s had a very good first year as a pro and scored some big goals for us. He’s a guy with good skill and good hands in the offensive zone. He likes having the puck and is learning to play a heavy game."

Would it be surprising to see the young Rychel make the Blue Jackets roster out of training camp when September rolls around? Not in the least, as he would fit right in with rookies Alex Wennberg and Marko Dano.

But, the priority right now is to get Mike Reilly signed to an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets. Which way he’s leaning, Reilly isn’t saying. If they can accomplish that task, the future on the blue line will indeed be a very bright spot for the organization.