While deciding to stay close to home, Mike Reilly took a detour to the other side of the globe.
Reilly and his brothers, Connor and Ryan, traveled to China for three weeks as part of a study abroad program through the University of Minnesota.
“It was a great decision to go there,” Reilly told Hockey’s Future at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament on Sept. 11, 2015. “Someday I can look back, maybe tell my kids, and say I went to China. How many people can say that?”
It also allowed him to clear his head.
Instead of focusing on his looming free agency decision — which started when he didn’t sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted him in 2011 — he enjoyed touring Shanghai and Beijing.
“A lot went into it,” Reilly said. “I did my homework on each team. And the combination of where it was and the team they had, that’s what really made Minnesota the right choice.”
With his decision made, Reilly is now using this year’s Traverse City tournament to get acclimated to his new franchise, which is one of eight at the annual tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Reilly said. “It’s a chance to get to know the coaches, players, and teammates you’ll play with someday. I’m excited about what I can do this week (in Traverse City).”
In college, Reilly was wildly successful.
He was named the 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was a Hobey Baker Finalist. He finished his collegiate career with 89 points in 117 games.
It more than impressed NHL organizations.
In fact, the 22-year-old essentially had his choice of which NHL team he could play for and entertained 10 teams at a combine before making his decision.
Those are the perks of having ideal size, great footwork, and offensive vision with a quick release.
Of course, now he has to deliver at the higher level.
“It’s pretty early on, but I’m learning already that the guys are bigger, stronger, faster,” Reilly said. “They think the game to a higher level … it’s a higher level in every facet of the game, and it can make you get out of your comfort zone.”
And he’s tested that comfort zone in Traverse City.
Wearing an “A” as an alternate captain, Reilly opened the tournament with a pair of assists in a 5-2 Wild victory against the New York Rangers prospects. The 6-foot-2, 187-pound defenseman wasn’t afraid to jump into the zone, and he utilizes his speed to contribute at both ends of the ice — like he did on one play where he pinched into the zone, seemingly got caught, but made up for the play by thwarting a potential breakaway.
That, he says, is going to be his calling card as a pro.
“I think so,” Reilly said. “I like to move my feet and work. That’s when I’m at my best. Playing my game and not worrying about too many other things.”
Reilly is hoping that philosophy will escalate him to the NHL this season, but he’s willing to play where Minnesota needs him.
“That’s obviously for them to decide,” Reilly said. “I’m just trying to work my hardest to prove I belong in the NHL.”
And he believes Minnesota is poised for another big season, which he wants to be a part of.
“I think you look at what they did and I think we can build on that,” Reilly said. “Obviously, re-signing (Devan) Dubnyk was big. So now, this season, I think there are pieces in place to start building right from the beginning.”
He’s also excited about the future of the franchise, which he’s witnessing first-hand this week.
“It really is a deep team,” Reilly said. “Look at what we did in the first game. We played well together, and we really finished plays on both ends of the ice.”
Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @SeanShapiro