We don’t blame you if you’re tired of the current news cycle. Nobody is enjoying this as we inch closer to a full-on lockdown with each passing day. It seems like a different hockey league – major, minor or otherwise – is closing up shop every hour, and it seems certain that the few pro leagues that remain open will be forced to accept further postponement or full-on cancellation as COVID-19 continues to take its toll across the globe.
But hidden in the avalanche of news over the past week was the New York Rangers’ signing of K’Andre Miller to a three-year, entry-level contract that kicks in next season. Drafted 22nd overall in 2018, Miller’s transition to pro was expected given his status as one of the best defensive prospects outside of the NHL. And even though he saw a slight decline in production this past NCAA season, the newly inked New York blueliner has all the tools to become one of the final pieces of the Rangers’ rebuild.
Plucked out of the University of Wisconsin, Miller previously patrolled the blueline for the USA Hockey National Development Team Program for two years before making the leap to the NCAA, and he did anything but disappoint once he arrived in the collegiate circuit. Miller’s game has never been about putting points on the board. Rather, he’s a jack of all trades. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, Miller is a strong skater who plays a physical game, and he’s conservative with the puck in a good way. Given the fact Miller’s transition to defense from forward only came in 2015-16 is an indication of how quickly his game has come along, especially since he committed to the NCAA after just one season as a blueliner.
While he’s a capable puck-mover, Miller’s biggest strength is the decisions he makes in his own zone, whether it be pushing opponents towards the perimeter or how he handles 2-on-1s. But that’s not to say he can’t be a useful offensive chip. He possesses playmaking ability and he can handle special teams duty.
Maybe the biggest positive, however, is that Miller’s move to the pros affords the Rangers a few options. Next season, Miller will be just 21 on a team with three defensemen under 25 already. Freshmen Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox have lived up to expectations with the big club this year, but before he arrived in New York, Lindgren benefited from a year with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. And there’s potential for Miller to take the same route to full-time NHL duty.
That’s not to say Miller couldn’t handle the NHL workload right away. He’s got a skillset any coach would love and is the definition of a modern-day defenseman. Like the Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes before him, it’s clear Miller is ready for the next step. But the Rangers can afford to be patient, especially with the club still in rebuild mode, even if that has been accelerated by the arrival of Artemi Panarin.
The Rangers learned some valuable lessons about how they handled forwards Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov this season, with neither finding a full-time job with the big club before heading overseas (Kravtsov eventually returned to play with AHL Hartford). So, with only a few spots available on an already young blueline, a trip down to the AHL might be what’s best for Miller. And if he turns heads as expected, there’s no reason his time in the minors can’t be a short stay.
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