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Could Minnesota's Mike Reilly Test Free Agency Waters?

Matt Christians

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote an interesting story on Blue Jackets prospect and current Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly.

Reilly is currently a junior at Minnesota, but because he spent a year playing junior hockey after being drafted by the Blue Jackets, he could potentially become an NHL free agent this summer. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement states that if a team has had a player's rights for four years, and he is no longer enrolled in school, the team has 30 days to sign him to a contract or that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. Some call this a "loophole," which doesn't really make sense, since the NHL club has held the player's rights for four years, twice as long as they'd hold a CHL drafted player's rights.

If Reilly were to formally withdraw from school at the University of Minnesota, the Blue Jackets would then have 30 days or until June 1st, whichever comes later, to sign Reilly or he would become a free agent. This was the same rule used by Blake Wheeler, and perhaps most famously, Justin Schultz to become NHL free agents after their junior seasons of college hockey.

There's no doubt that teams would pursue Reilly aggressively should he choose to become a free agent. Reilly was ranked ninth overall on our list of the Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA, and, had it not been for a rough stretch through the middle of the season, likely would have been a couple spots higher. For stretches this season, he's been the most dominating, impressive defenseman in all of college hockey, and is very likely to be named an All-American for the second consecutive season.

The Blue Jackets would have the ability to allow Reilly to jump straight to the NHL after his season ends, allowing Reilly to burn a year on his entry-level contract for just a few games. The Jackets don't have a lot of organizational depth on the blue line, though they do have a very similar player to Reilly in Ryan Murray.

A number of players will have similar decisions to make this offseason, most notably goalies Zane McIntyre and Adam Wilcox, but Reilly will likely be the most high-profile player to watch this coming off-season in terms of becoming an NHL free agent.