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Blue Jackets let '11 pick Reilly talk to other teams

by Mike G. Morreale

BUFFALO -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have granted 2011 draft pick Mike Reilly permission to speak to other teams after failing to agree on a contract.

Reilly, along with agent Pat Brisson, began that process this week at the NHL Scouting Combine at First Niagara Center. He can officially become a free agent June 15 but would have to wait until July 1 to sign with a team other than Columbus.

Reilly, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 98) of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Blue Jackets, made public his desire to test the free agent market after opting to forego his senior year of eligibility at the University of Minnesota.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on Wednesday told The Columbus Dispatch that Reilly can talk with "whoever he wanted to talk to."

Reilly, who had 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games in three seasons at Minnesota, had the choice of either continuing his college career or signing with the Blue Jackets. Now, with the Blue Jackets' blessing, he's essentially a free agent.

Reilly, 21, spoke to about the situation.

"Coming into the year the focus was on the [University of Minnesota], making a good run, but it was a tough ending for us," Reilly said after exiting an NHL team suite at First Niagara Center. "After sitting back a little bit, I realized what was in front of me and I thought it would be good to potentially see what else is out there.

"I haven't been able to talk to any teams until now since I had to wait 30 days after withdrawing from school. There's a lot of things that go on, but I think it's good to kind of see what else is out there. I'm still huge on Columbus, but to be in this situation is pretty unique."

A similar situation transpired last summer when forward Kevin Hayes, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers after his senior year at Boston College.

While playing for the United States at the 2015 World Championship in the Czech Republic in May, Reilly said he informed Columbus coach Todd Richards, who was coaching the U.S., of his decision. He also spoke with Columbus assistant GM Bill Zito, who was part of the U.S. management group.

"I was able to do that face-to-face with them," Reilly said. "I wanted to tell [Zito] what was going on, and he understood. He's not going to tell me I can't do certain things, and I'm happy he's supportive in this situation."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the teams in the hunt for Reilly's services are the Blackhawks, Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. Elliotte Friedman of "Hockey Night in Canada" said he wouldn't be surprised if the Pittsburgh Penguins also are involved.

As a left-shot defenseman, Reilly will certainly be in high demand.

"I think the NHL today is so much more about pace and moving the puck and getting it to the forwards and being able to join the rush," Reilly said. "I think I can do that, jump into the rush, and also defend as well. I feel I'm in good position so when I get the puck, can transition to offense right away."

Reilly said University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia understood his decision to leave school. The Blue Jackets have two other draft picks in their system who played collegiate hockey at Minnesota: defenseman Ryan Collins (2014, No. 47) and right wing Seth Ambroz (2011, No. 128).

"When I assessed the situation at the end of the year I was in no rush to do anything because I had to finish my classes," Reilly said. "I was in some difficult classes, and if I were to go anywhere to play, I don't know if I'd be able to complete them. When I went over to Czech Republic, I had to make sure I had my finals figured out. The best thing was to sit back and let the process play itself out, and that led me to where I am today."


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