ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Taking the ice about 30 minutes from his hometown, Minnesota Wild defenseman Mike Reilly is in a whole new world.
Born in Chicago but raised in Chanhassen, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb on the southwest end of the Twin Cities, stepping inside Xcel Energy Center is nothing new for Reilly. His dad, also named Mike, is a minority investor with the Wild, and Reilly and his brothers have been coming to games here nearly his entire life.
But stepping on the ice for the Wild, which Reilly did last week for the first time during development camp, is something that's difficult for him to believe is true.
"It's starting to sink in a little more now skating with the jersey on," Reilly said. "It's a great feeling to wear that jersey."
A star across town at the University of Minnesota, Reilly was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last season, awarded to the best player in college hockey.
An All-American who led the Golden Gophers in scoring, Reilly was a fourth-round pick (No. 98) by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2011 NHL Draft. Until recently, Reilly thought he would finish at Minnesota then begin his professional career with the Blue Jackets.
But his draft rights with Columbus expired June 15, which made Reilly an unrestricted free agent. As a young, emerging, relatively cheap player at a premium position, nearly every team in the NHL contacted Reilly to express interest.
When it came time to sign, Reilly said staying home felt like the best decision.
"It was a unique experience that many don't get to go through," Reilly said. "It was a special opportunity to be here and learn from a lot of great people."
Reilly's next mission is to make the Wild roster this season. The two-year contract he signed with Minnesota is a two-way deal, meaning he can be sent to the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League.
As of now, that's not the intention.
When Reilly was drafted, he weighed 150 pounds. At 5-foot-10, his lack of size was a big reason he slipped down draft boards.
A year with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League and three years with the Gophers changed that for Reilly, now 6-foot-2, 190 pounds.
"I was ecstatic to sign a guy like him," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "We didn't get the news until the draft. Really, it's like adding a first-round pick this year. It's terrific when you can add a player of that caliber."
Development camp was Reilly's first opportunity to impress the Wild with his skating and play-making ability. He was clearly the best player on the ice during the first scrimmage Saturday and was an impact player again during the final session on Tuesday.
"He's a very good kid and fits in right away with a lot of our guys," Flahr said. "He's worked hard, came in with a good attitude. He's stood out in both scrimmages with his mobility and his ability to get up ice and make plays offensively.
"But he knows what he's up against. He needs to continue to work hard and get stronger to compete against the big boys when the time comes."
Reilly said he's excited to take the next couple of months off before coming to training camp in September.
"I haven't made any roster yet," Reilly said. "There are guys on the current team and in the AHL that have a lot of experience in pro hockey and know how to act like a pro. I'm going to come in [to training camp] and work hard, try to pick up things from the older players.
"If I come in and play my game, hopefully it will all work out."