MONTREAL - Mike Reilly certainly isn't lacking in motivation heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
Signing a brand new two-year contract has something to do with it, of course, but so does the fact that he spent 17 of the Canadiens' final 18 games last season watching from the press box as a healthy scratch.
"There's definitely a chip on my shoulder," said the 26-year-old defenseman, referencing his extended stay on the sidelines to close out the year. "Nobody wants to be out of the lineup, especially when you feel like you're playing some good hockey. You're kind of searching for answers on why you're coming out."
According to Reilly, those answers came at his end-of-season meeting with the Habs' brass before returning home to Minnesota for the summer.
And the four-year NHL veteran took that feedback to heart, realizing where key improvements needed to be made.
"I felt like sometimes last year I maybe shied away a little bit. I didn't take the initiative as much as I maybe should've. I feel like that's when I'm at my best, just going out there and playing and not thinking as much," explained Reilly, who averaged 18:41 of ice time per outing in 57 games. "I could've done a better job at that and kind of used my shot a lot more and not be as hesitant to shoot and pass up shots. I have to be more aggressive in that way."
Reilly did register a career-high 225 shot attempts and 101 shots on goal, though. The challenge now is to get more of those shots on net and create scoring chances in the process.
"There's always good things that happen when you get pucks to the net. If you can get it by that first guy, it might hit something. There were some games last year where I had a lot of attempts and it would lead to shots and chances. And there's other games where I would pass those up and you wouldn't see those kinds of results," added Reilly. "I have to be confident and remind myself that I have a good shot and I can use it to my advantage."
Reilly's first career goal in a Canadiens uniform on October 17, 2018 was proof positive of his shooting capabilities, especially when the Canadiens are up a man.
Video: STL@MTL: Reilly makes move at blue line, scores PPG
In fact, Reilly was the club's third-most utilized blueliner on the power play behind only Jeff Petry and captain Shea Weber.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that Reilly has made his shooting technique a point of emphasis this summer.
"I usually get my own ice and design drills that are like game situations. I'll do the little things like shooting from the point and shooting from different position, picking pucks off the wall and retrievals. You do things that emulate games as much as you can. You don't always get that in scrimmages, so it's the best of both worlds, " mentioned Reilly, who amassed a career-high three goals this past season. "I like to shoot pucks in my basement a lot, too. We have concrete down there and sideboards to shoot off of and some things you can pass off of for one-timers."
In the gym, meanwhile, Reilly's focus is squarely on bulking up his current 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame.
"I might be coming in a little bit thicker this year, stronger than in years past. I'm on pace to do that, which is going to help me with little battles. I've been doing more core work just to stabilize and give me a good center of ground and mass," explained Reilly. "I'm focusing on that a lot more than in past summers. I want to feel stronger in the corners. I'm not the biggest or the strongest guy, but that little extra edge will benefit me when I get into those positions in the corners or in front of the net."
No doubt that work will also make the University of Minnesota product even stronger on his skates, which could lead to more pretty goals just like these.
Video: WSH@MTL: Reilly dekes, beats Copley short side
It goes without saying that Reilly is keen on proving his worth defensively as well.
"I'm known as a good skater, a guy who likes to play with the puck and play offense, but I think the defensive side of my game kind of gets overshadowed just based off what people think of me as a player," insisted Reilly. "I defend in a different way, but I can still play with the puck and play with these high-end forwards and these fast forwards and get them the puck and get creative."
The bottom line is that Reilly is eager to be a real difference-maker come the fall.
"I definitely think I can be a big contributor to the team. There are a couple of things that I need to be conscious of that will help me stay in the lineup every night," concluded Reilly. "But, I've come a long way in the year-and-a-quarter I've been in Montreal under Coach Julien."