Reilly Walsh: from Harvard to Utique | PROSPECT WATCH

Reilly Walsh has not yet played his 50e as a professional hockey player, but the 22-year-old Utica Comets defenseman’s journey seems longer.

He has now been part of the Devils organization for four years, drafted in the third round (81st global) in 2017, the club’s fourth selection that year followed by Nico Hischier, Jesper boqvist and Fabien Zetterlund. Since that time, he has played three seasons of college hockey at Harvard, signed a contract with the NHL and lived through a pandemic.

He is now firmly established for his first full season in the American Hockey League.

“I’m getting to know the lay of the land,” said the leading scorer among defensemen for the Devils branch, who lost their first game of the season on Wednesday night after a 13-game winning streak, an AHL record. , at the beginning of the year.

No one was spared from the pandemic, but Walsh’s situation was unique. He was a junior at Harvard, playing on a good team with a handful of other NHL draft players when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, canceling the season. Unlike most college programs, Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League swept the next campaign.

In theory, Walsh could have waited for the pandemic and played his senior season right now. While there are worse places to spend the time than Harvard, from a hockey perspective it wouldn’t have been the best option for a player deemed ready to turn pro. And so when the Devils come calling him, he signed. His professional rookie season took place in a closed shop at the Devils’ training center in Newark, playing a shortened schedule against a few AHL opponents.

His last line of stats was 33GP, 5G, 10A and he, like the rest of the young core of the Binghamton Devils, showed up well while overcoming some expected bumps along the way. One of the detours came when it was announced around halfway through the abridged season that the team was moving to Utica.

Walsh acknowledged the challenges but maintained there was a clear goal and advantage for the 2020-21 campaign.

“I think for the core guys here we’ve (progressed) by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Last year showed us the adjustments we had to make to be here.”

Walsh says the great start of the Comets and the loud reception the team has received in the community go hand in hand.

“The fans have made a huge difference,” echoing a similar refrain voiced by several Comets players, “the arena is packed and they are loud.”

Walsh has scored twice and added eight assists in 14 games. He says the highlight for him so far this season has been at camp with the big club playing two exhibition games, including one against Washington on the road. Like all young players who grew up in the days of Alexander Ovechkin, it was quite an experience donning a Devils jersey for the first time against the Russian superstar.

Playing in exhibition games may not seem on the surface to be the same as making an NHL debut, but it’s almost always a player’s first action in the NHL, whatever it is. The impression he leaves is unmistakable and unforgettable, as it was with Walsh.

“It was just the coolest thing,” he recalls, citing the plane trip to DC, being told he was in line that night and other little details that are hard to see for. The foreigners.

When Walsh signed with the Devils in the summer of 2020, a lot was done, naturally, in his family bond with general manager Tom Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald and Reilly’s dad, Mike, played in the AHL together and were roommates. Mike Walsh has had a long professional career as a forward, most of it spent with the New York Islanders organization. He is now a hockey teacher / coach at Proctor Academy in Andover, New Hampshire. He has ties to many other people in the hockey world, including Randy Wood and Jim Vesey, father of Miles and Jimmy respectively.

The connections don’t end there, but you get the point.

“I think everyone I met (in hockey) my dad knew (already),” he said.

“With Jimmy vesey going to Harvard… which (played a part) in my going to Harvard. ”

And as a student at the famous academic institution, where he plans to complete his degree in sociology this summer, Walsh has an informed and analytical opinion. In fact, he half-apologizes if any of his answers seem too cliché.

To witness it:

“I’m a defender but (the goal) is to spend less time in zone D,” adding later in the conversation: “I know it’s a bit cliché but if you take it game by game, and be efficient (every game), the points will come. “

On the cusp of fine-tuning the organization’s lineup in the AHL by adding a few older pros and the outstanding play of Utica forwards:

“If you give them a good pass, it could end up in the net (of the opposition).”

And finally, what about the New Jersey appeal, which could come soon, or later depending on injuries and other factors, most of which are beyond a player’s individual control.

“We all want to play in the NHL,” said Walsh, “but it’s going to be the success of the team here (at Utica) that gets us all there. You have to play (with the team spirit) in every game. “

So far, so good.

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