K’Andre Miller, US National Team Development Program (USHL)
Position: Left Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.43 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’3.25, 198 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (USHL Only): 22 GP, 4 G, 12 A, 6 PIM, +13
NHL Central Scouting: 23th (North American Skaters)
Future Considerations: 20th
Craig Button (TSN): 31st
Canucks Army: 34th
ISS Hockey: (Not Top-31)
K’Andre Miller comes from the school of Brent Burns in that he was a forward who was converted to defenseman. He’s been on the blue-line for a couple of years now, and the results have started to pay dividends.
What stands out about Miller is his sheer athleticism. At 6’3.25 and 198 pounds - and most of that is pure muscle - he is in a class of his own at the junior level. He has a long reach that he uses to break up zone entry attempts. His strength shows on the ice. He doesn’t exactly have a tough time knocking players off the puck. Among U18 defensemen, he is probably the one I imagine players would least like to engage with in a physical battle.
The other standout quality for Miller is his speed. Often with big, physical players, skating is problematic. But Miller reminds me of Chris Kreider in how he effortlessly zooms up the ice with long, powerful strides. The following play perfectly shows this ability (look for #19 in blue).
Miller had already jumped up the ice and ends up behind the opposition net. A miscommunication between Hughes (43) and Wahlstrom (18) leads to them both covering the same guy, and it only gets worse as they trip over each other. That leads to a partial breakaway, but somehow Miller was able to get back and break up the play.
That same ability translates offensively as well. He jumps up the ice and joins the rushes as a winger might. He only needs two quick steps to generate momentum. Defending players are forced to back off. If they don’t then they can get burned down the wing.
Clearly, Miller possesses a ton of raw talent. He’s still a work in progress as a defensive player, though. His strength and physicality can be a double-edged sword. He’s hardly hot-headed, but sometimes he can get overly physical and take an unnecessary penalty instead of recognizing that the job is done. Here is one instance where he more than earned a crosschecking penalty. Pay attention to the net front.
It’s good that he is using his size to clear the lane and give his goaltender sight of the puck, but this is way overboard. Refs are often hands-off when it comes to slot physicality, but when you continuously throw a guy to the ice the ref’s hand is forced. This is an area where his inexperience shows. Knowing what you can and can not generally get away with is something he will need to continue to feel out and learn.
There are also some problems with his defensive zone positioning. He is very good defending one-on-one. However, when he has to multitask and follow the intricacies of marking a player while also keeping an eye on how the play is developing away from him, he can fall a step behind at times.
Miller has four or five inches on his man (Baker Shore) here, and with the right awareness and footwork there’s no way Shore is able to get his hands this rebound. Miller was just slow to read and react.
Similarly, he’s a work in progress offensively. As demonstrated earlier, he can jump up the ice on rushes and transition plays and make an impact immediately following zone entries. Here’s another example.
But on controlled plays within the offensive zone, he struggles to make himself particularly useful. He’s not clumsy with the puck by any means, but he’s still working on becoming a consistent factor. Whether that means further developing puck poise and recognizing passing patterns, or learning when to activate and make himself a part of the play down low. With his speed and size, I’d like to see him take those delayed routes down low and present himself as an option to receive a pass or disrupt coverages by putting an extra body in the slot. He does have a strong shot, however, and he can score or create rebounds from the point.
That rawness is why I have him ranked towards the end of round one as opposed to closer to the middle. I very much like him as a high reward player, though. He has a ton of raw talent and has shown it in flashes. The million dollar question is whether he can refine his game.
There are other players who fit the mold of “great tools, crude product.” I’m not sure how many can match Miller’s athleticism. But what separates him from most is his learning curve. Again, this is a player who has only played defense for a few seasons. He has already made impressive improvements to his game during that time. It took Burns a while to master that transition, but the results have well justified the wait. Alternatively, there’s a possibility that Miller could eventually switch back to forward.
Whatever team drafts Miller will have to be patient. He’s going to the University of Wisconsin next season, and he’s going to need time to adjust to the level of play. I can imagine him spending three, maybe even four seasons in college. However, if he can learn to properly utilize his athleticism and size, he could turn into a scary player with rare ability.
What Others Have Said
USNTDP Associate Coach Nick Fohr (via The Athletic):
“When he’s going up and down the rink, it’s like something I have never seen before.”