It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that any whispers of trade rumors surrounding Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm this season usually had the Boston Bruins at the forefront of a potential sweepstakes.
For as much as acquiring top-six scoring talent has been an omnipresent need for this Bruins club year after year, the 2021 campaign brought a new set of circumstances — with the departures of both Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, a slew of injuries and the expected growing pains from youngsters like Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril prompting the B's to scour a largely barren market of available blueliners for help on the backend.
On paper, via the eye test, through analytics — you name it, Ekholm certainly seemed like the answer to most of Boston's troubles on defense: A minutes-eating veteran capable of not only shoring up a top-four spot and potentially keeping a 5v5 buzzsaw of a pairing in Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy intact, but also able to drive play at even strength through a sound transition game and with a bevy of pucks fired in from the point.
Alas, with the once-rudderless Predators surging up the Central Division standings, any chances of Nashville selling off key assets like Ekholm dissipated in short order — prompting Boston to look elsewhere for solutions on the blue line.
Said solution ended up being Mike Reilly — who, either due to his previous team (the lowly Senators) or the more high profile blue-line targets linked to Boston over the last year (Ekholm and Oliver Ekman-Larsson) flew under the radar when Boston parted ways with a 2022 third-round pick to pry him from Ottawa on Sunday night.
Now, granted, Reilly doesn't boast nearly the same resume as established names like Ekman-Larsson or Ekholm, and while his playdriving metrics with Ottawa have surged over the past 12 months, skepticism was warranted when it came to just how the 27-year-old blueliner would adjust to moving to a new system in Boston after thriving on a very bad Sens roster.
But through two games with his new club, Reilly has been far more than just a depth option to a D corps taking on water. So far, he's been everything that Boston has needed on the backend — and more.
"Short sample size, but boy — he's a nice find for us," Bruce Cassidy said of Reilly following Boston's 4-1 win over the Islanders. "Not only because of our predicament back there where we've got some guys hurt. But just in general — he's a nice add."