Mike Reilly's impressive freshman season at the University of Minnesota just got significantly better.
The 19-year-old from Chanhassen, Minn., a fourth-round pick (98th overall) of the Blue Jackets at the 2011 NHL Draft in his home state, has been living a dream right now playing defense for the Golden Gophers and head coach Don Lucia.
He was named to USA Hockey's preliminary roster for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship this morning. It's quite the big step for Reilly, who also participated in this summer's U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. -- a pre-cursor to the shaping of Team USA's roster.
In 15 games this season for the Gophers, Reilly has scored a goal and added seven assists with a +4 rating, steadily earning more ice time and trust as the season moves along. Minnesota currently sits in second place (WCHA) behind Denver, but has given up a conference-low 28 goals on the year.
Reilly has been on the "watch list" for World Junior tournament observers since a solid performance at the summer evaluation camp, and the confidence has poured over to the start of his college hockey career. He's a supremely confident puck-carrier who possesses foot speed unlike most players his age, making him a dangerous weapon on the back end for Minnesota.
"He's been terrific," Mike Russo of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune told BlueJackets.com. "He skates the puck like few defensemen I've covered. Just so smooth. Super fast, especially on the backcheck.
"He has the ability to jump up in the play and make a quick retreat if he has to get back quickly. Very smart and positionally sound. It's hard to believe he's a freshman because he's so poised out there."
Should he make the team, Reilly will be part of a marquee group of American-born junior defensemen. Players in the mix for spots on Team USA's blue line include: Seth Jones (Portland Winterhawks), Patrick Sieloff (Windsor Spitfires), Jacob Trouba (University of Michigan) and Gopher teammate Brady Skjei.
According to USA Hockey, players named to the preliminary roster will participate in a training camp from Dec. 16-18 at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. That camp continues from Dec. 19-23 in Helsinki, Finland, and the final 23-man roster will be announced on Dec. 23.
Team USA is led by head coach (and legendary American defenseman) Phil Housley, who currently serves as head coach at Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Minn.
Mark Osiecki, head coach of the Ohio State men's hockey team, will serve as one of Housley's assistant coaches for the tournament.