While most of the focus has been on another rookie, the New York Rangers have seen another rookie make great strides during this beginning stretch of the season. Defenseman K’Andre Miller had an outstanding performance in Friday night’s shootout loss to Pittsburgh and has shown steady improvement since his shaky opening night game.
Miller himself noted the improvement during his Friday night post-game Zoom conference in describing how things have changed since that first night. “Obviously, those first-game nerves…… you dream about playing in the NHL your whole life, and once the opportunity comes, there are nerves that come with it. But with four games under my belt, I’m just trying to be as consistent as I can be and help the team in whatever way I can.”
Friday night’s game was certainly an indication of that consistency as Miller was one of the better Rangers on the ice, which includes 21:17 of ice time, five hits, two shots, one takeaway, one blocked shot, and his first NHL point, as well as a shift in overtime as the lone defenseman in the 3-on-3 format.
It is the sort of start that many had hoped for when Miller was the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 draft. Miller had used his 6-foot-5 frame to bully opponents off the puck for Wisconsin in the NCAA last season and is also a terrific skater for his size. Many NHL insiders felt that Miller has all the physical tools to excel as a shutdown defenseman.
It was these skills that head coach David Quinn noticed in the post-season bubble, as well as at the start of training camp when Quinn said of Miller that “From a defending standpoint, he’s like a praying mantis with that stick and his arms and his legs. He’s tough to get around. When you think you have him beat, there he is with his stick. There’s just an awful lot to like about him, and let’s not overlook his elite skating for a guy that size.”
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Quinn’s praise of Miller was also seen in Friday night’s post-game Zoom conference when the head coach said: “I just love the way he played today. You know, he wasn’t afraid, regardless of who was out there, whether it was Malkin or Crosby or whoever. He was playing hockey. And it’s nice to see a kid that age play with that type of swagger.”
Miller credits much of his early success to practicing with outstanding teammates, something that helped prepare him to play against top stars like Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Miller also gave praise to linemate Jacob Trouba. “Obviously working with Troubs, kidding of working with that older mentor who has been through the game, who has logged a lot of minutes and a lot of games in the NHL, it’s helped me a ton.”
Continued improvement for Miller and all of the Rangers will hopefully be evident as they face the Penguins again on Sunday night, with a 7 p.m. puck drop.