When it comes to defensemen, the New York Rangers have one that overshadows everyone else on the blue line. That defenseman is the 2021 Norris Trophy winner and 2023 runner-up, Adam Fox. There is, however, another name in the shadow of Fox that is budding into a young star and having a quietly hot start to the year.
Enter 23-year-old K’Andre Miller who broke out last year, putting up career highs in goals (nine), assists (34), and points (43). His 2022-23 season granted him a two-year, $3.872M deal from GM Chris Drury. So far this season, Miller is living up to the expectations set by his price tag and having a hot start under new head coach Peter Laviolette.
K’Andre Miller possesses a unique skill set
In the NHL, when a defenseman is 6’5″ and 210 lbs, most people think of guys who are on the third pair only there to play stay-at-home defense and cannot skate. This is far from the case with Miller, who has a unique skill set for his size.
The defenseman is a force to be reckoned with on defense using his tall stature to clog up passing and shooting lanes by sprawling out on the ice, but he also uses his 65″ inch (that’s right, he uses a hockey stick that is 5’5″) stick to poke pucks away from players in front and also from behind.
He’s also a gazelle in the way he skates which is uncommon for players his height. In a game during the 2022-23 season against the Philadelphia Flyers, Miller stripped Ivan Provorov of the puck leading to a breakaway. The defenseman was tripped but managed to get himself up and still score on netminder Carter Hart.
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Miller is off to a hot start this season
In the Rangers’ first 10 games of the season, Miller has gotten off to his hottest start in his four-year NHL career. The defenseman is seventh in points on the team (and third in points by a D-man) with seven (one goal and six assists) putting him on pace to set another career high in that department with 48.
It’s not only the points that have jumped for Miller but also his play in the defensive zone. Miller is in sole possession of first on the team in takeaways with nine (five more than second place).
At 5:59 in the first period of the Rangers’ shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, Miller reached his stick out from the side of the net to send a Grade-A chance from Mats Zuccarello into the netting. Miller’s long stick allowed him to reach from around the net and get a stick on the puck, deflecting it out of play.
Confidence from the Rangers’ new head coach
“I think he’s been hard to play against. He’s used his size … and his speed … and his physicality to defend … I do think he has really good offensive tendencies to get up in the rush and in the offensive zone. So there’s a lot of positive things offensively, but I think it stems from having a really good base of — and a foundation of — physicality, speed, defense, tenacity. All of that’s, for me, pushing the other way as well.”via Jonny Lazarus of The Hockey News
Peter Laviolette has been allowing the fourth-year defenseman a little more run after his breakout year. The Rangers’ new bench boss has not only given Miller a run on the penalty kill unit, but he has also given him the keys to quarterback the second powerplay unit.
Laviolette’s confidence in Miller has allowed him to take an even bigger leap with his game from last season and also allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them without being punished. The Rangers should be excited with what they have in Miller.