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Defining Mike Reilly’s role with the Montreal Canadiens for next season

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While he’s great at moving the puck, is there more to Reilly’s game that can keep him in the Montreal lineup?

Montreal Canadiens v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Mike Reilly at the trade deadline last season, it seemed like the standard low-risk, moderate-reward type trade. Reilly was a highly touted NCAA star who couldn’t put it all together consistently for the Minnesota Wild. He only suited up in 19 games for the Canadiens, but his ability to move the puck and generate points made plenty of Habs fans excited for his next full season.

With eight points in 19 games, Reilly was fairly productive in his time in Montreal, and that’s impressive when you consider the heavy minutes he played on the top pair with Jeff Petry. While he looked good on the ice, it’s worth looking into his underlying numbers before handing him a potential spot in the Canadiens’ top four next season.

Reilly played 333 minutes at five-on-five in Montreal, and 185 of those minutes were spent next to Petry on a cobbled-together top pair. Despite Petry’s ability to float his defensive partners, this pair sank below a passable level with a 47.8 Corsi-for percentage in their time together. Also sinking the pairing was an abysmal 89.7 on-ice save percentage, though they still had a slightly inflated PDO of 101.7 together. Nearly all of Petry’s metrics increase without Reilly playing on his pairing, so it might be wise to keep the former Wild defenceman on a lower pair in the coming season.

Overall, Reilly wasn’t exactly a stalwart defender in terms of suppressing shots against in the high-danger spots in his own end. It’s an area that the Canadiens struggled heavily with, and it seems Reilly isn’t going to be fixing that issue.

By the time he arrived, the Canadiens were playing with a handful of AHL guys, a pair of backup goalies, and consistently jumbled lines. Yet even with an overall on-ice save percentage of 95.8 and a PDO of 102.2, Reilly on his own had a 45.9 Corsi-for percentage, meaning he was bleeding shots against regardless of who his partner was.

While the Habs were a mess, it still seems that using Reilly in defensive-zone minutes would be a misguided undertaking. He isn’t great at stopping shots against, and even with one of the Habs’ best defenders he couldn’t break even in possession.

There is a very good side to Reilly’s game, however, and that is in the fact he does well at getting pucks towards his forwards, and the net, in the offensive zone.

At five-on-five with Reilly on the ice, the Canadiens generated considerably more offence in the faceoff areas and directly in front of opposing nets. Comparatively speaking, with Reilly off the ice (a much larger sample size) the Habs’ shots were coming more from the side-walls than anywhere else. Those aren’t exactly threatening places to shoot from, and if having Reilly on the ice produces more chances, then opting to give him easier minutes with offensive-zone starts should be the best way to get the most out of him.

His offensive skill set makes him a valuable addition to a secondary power-play unit. The only reason he can’t claim the first spot is that Shea Weber will hold that spot as long as his shot remains so lethal.

It is a small sample size, but much like his five-on-five chart, with Reilly on the ice the Canadiens become a much more dangerous team in the offensive zone. Heavy chances from the slot and around the net are what teams are looking for on the power play. With players who clean up well around the net like Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen, having a defender who can get the puck there is a necessary thing.

Reilly is an interesting case for the Canadiens this upcoming season. Many think he could step back into a top-four role and bump Karl Alzner down the lineup. The issue is that while his skating is top notch and he can pass the puck well, Reilly’s defensive flaws make it hard to see him as an option in those minutes. Now, if the Canadiens used him with heavy offensive zone and power-play time, they can likely get the best parts of his game regularly.

It’ll be up to Claude Julien and his staff to recognize that, however, but with a healthy Weber and Victor Mete next year, the chances of Reilly being overused should go down. The team needs to be wary of trying to play Reilly for too long above his weight class though, as the results of his inferior defensive play may start showing up on the scoreboard before long.