In what most every Gopher Hockey fan knew was inevitable, Mike Reilly has decided to leave the Gophers after his junior season and sign a professional contract this spring or summer. Reilly confirmed he was leaving on Wednesday to Jason Gonzalez of the Star Tribune.
Reilly stated that he does not know yet whether he will sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets who hold his draft rights after selecting him in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, or whether he will take advantage of a loophole in the NHL collective bargaining agreement which will allow him to be a free agent on July 1st if he withdraws from the U by June 1st.
Reilly will make his decision after he is one of three college hockey players to play for the United States in the World Championship in May in the Czech Republic. However, the fact that he has not yet signed with Columbus is a fairly large tip-off that he intends to become a free agent and see what the market will hold for him and his hockey future. Especially if the rumors are true that if Reilly had signed with Columbus immediately after the Gophers season ended that they would have let him play out the end of the season in the NHL, and not in the AHL like several of his Gopher teammates are doing.
Reilly finishes a successful three seasons as a Gopher winning back to back Big Ten Defenive Player of the Year awards in his last two seasons. He was named a First Team All-American after his sophomore season, and will most likely be honored with All-American honors again this season when they are announced this weekend. He led all college hockey defensemen with 42 points this past season, also leading the entire Gopher squad.
Reilly's official decision leaves just Hudson Fasching as the last obvious potential candidate to leave the Gophers early for the pro ranks. His rights are held by the Buffalo Sabres and he will make a decision at some point this summer whether or not to return for his junior season as a Gopher. There may be other unforseen departures from the Gopher program, but no other candidates stand out as a likely flight risk.