Jackets prospect Reilly going pro — but maybe not for Columbus

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The saga of Blue Jackets draftee Mike Reilly has taken another turn.

Reilly, a Hobey Baker candidate that Columbus took in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, announced he’s leaving the University of Minnesota and will turn pro next season, but played coy as to where he’d sign.

“[I] will not be returning [next season] and will know more after the [World Championships] tournament,” Reilly said, per the Star-Tribune. “I don’t want to talk too much about my situation.

“But I am going to worlds the 25th [of April] and I’m very excited.”

Reilly is expected to be named to Team USA for the Worlds, which will be played in the Czech Republic from May 1-17, allowing him to further stave off a decision about his professional future. If he doesn’t sign with the Jackets before June 1, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a different NHL club.

That’s important, because the 21-year-old defenseman is held in high regard. He’s a two-time All-American that, this season, became the first d-man in nearly 20 years to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring. The Jackets want him in the fold, now, and haven’t been shy about expressing as much.

More on that, from the Dispatch:

[Jackets GM Jarmo] Kekalainen and company have tried hard to woo him.

Last spring, they played host to him at Nationwide Arena for the two home playoff games against Pittsburgh. When the Blue Jackets played in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 19, Reilly watched the morning skate with Davidson and Kekalainen. When the Blue Jackets traded defenseman James Wisniewski, Kekalainen mentioned Reilly as a player who has a clearer path to an NHL job.

“Mike Reilly is having a great year in Minnesota,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a prospect we believe in, and he’ll be stepping into some big shoes with our organization. We look forward to getting him signed.”

The feelings don’t appear to be mutual, however. Reilly’s repeatedly deflected questions about signing in Columbus and now, Golden Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel is following suit.

“I talked to [Reilly] last week when we had our season-ending meetings. Mike is going to sign, it’s just a matter of who he’s going to sign with. He’s got options,” Guentzel told the Star-Tribune. “He’s going to make a decision sometime in May [or June] what he’s going to do.

“He’s 21 and he’s earned that right and opportunity, and he’s in a good situation. I really respect how much Columbus has tried to go after him and I think he’d be in a good situation there, but he has to make the decision that is best for him.”

Should Reilly balk on signing with Columbus and go unrestricted, he’d be following in the footsteps of Kevin Hayes and Justin Schultz, who spurned the teams that drafted them — the Blackhawks and Ducks — to sign with the Rangers and Oilers, respectively.

It’s also worth noting that Reilly’s dad, also named Mike, is a minority owner of the Minnesota Wild, which has led to speculation that the younger Reilly could opt to sign with his hometown team.

Update: As pointed out in several places, Reilly’s coach at the Worlds is (pending formal announcement) Todd Richards — the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Which could make for an interesting dynamic.