The New York Rangers selected defenseman K’Andre Miller with the 22nd overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft. Miller is a 6-foot-4, left-handed product of the U.S. National Development Program.
Miller is one of the most highly-touted prospects in the Rangers organization and his rookie season would have had a lot more buzz around it if not for the fact that the Blueshirts had two other rookies on the opening night roster who were expected to make noise in the Calder race. Way to ruin everything, Igor and Alexis.
Miller entered the 2020-21 season as a 20-year-old rookie with two years of NCAA experience from the University of Wisconsin. We all know the story — he’s a recent convert to his position and had a great albeit brief college career. He has great size, he’s a great skater, and could have the goods to be a mainstay on this blue line for the next decade.
Yes, Miller is that special.
With that said, Miller was a rookie defenseman and very few rookie defensemen jump into the NHL without going through some serious growing pains. I expected to see him show flashes of the ability that make him such an exciting prospect but I also wasn’t expecting the world here — especially in a truncated, bizarre season like this one. I was ready for some headaches.
More than anything, I wanted Miller to have a solid rookie season and for the coaching staff to put him in a position to succeed. So, how did things go?
Miller had to earn his spot on the roster out of training camp, and he did. So, he definitely started his rookie season on a positive note — especially when that earned spot was in the top-four. Remember, there was some uncertainty surrounding the blue line and where everyone was going to fit in when the season started. Remember Jack Johnson?
The big rookie finished his season averaging 21:07 TOI/GP — a considerable workload in a debut season. Miller skated primarily with Jacob Trouba at evens — 534:19 of his 940:30 5-on-5 ice time was shared with the veteran right-hander. Generally speaking, they made a fine second pairing behind Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox. Also, it’s worth noting that Trouba played much better this year with Miller as his partner.
K'Andre Miller doing K'Andre Miller things. pic.twitter.com/UsNRyXILKL— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 9, 2021
What made Miller a standout in his rookie year, in particular, was his long stride to help propel him up and ice, and his reach.
The former Badger finished in the red in Rel xGF% (-3.46) but was third among Rangers’ blueliners in Rel xGF% (3.64) and Rel CF% (1.14) — excluding Tony DeAngelo’s six-game sample.
Miller definitely showed flashes of being a defender who can join the rush and make things happen with his size and speed but he did lead all Rangers’ D in turnovers. He finished the season with 2.49 giveaways per 60 at 5-on-5. To put that number into context, Adam Fox — who had the puck on his stick a lot — had 1.82 giveaways per 60.
Given his turnover numbers, it’s interesting that Miller excelled at eluding contact — his 2.74 hits taken per 60 at 5-on-5 was the lowest on the team. Something tells me we will be focusing a lot on his decisions with the puck over the next few years.
The rookie defender also became a mainstay on the penalty kill, often alongside Trouba. The Rangers’ short-handed play, on the whole, improved this year and Miller was apart of it. His skating helped push play out of the defensive end to avoid two full minutes of a defensive shell.
So, as expected, some aspects of Miller’s game looked pretty raw. As the season progressed, you could see how much information he was soaking in and processing to improve and adapt. Again, none of this was particularly surprising for a rookie defenseman but these are the things you focus on to get an idea of what a prospect can become.
Miller finished his 53-game rookie campaign with five goals, seven assists, and 10 minor penalties. Did you know that Miller led all rookie d-men in goals despite seeing insignificant time on the advantage? Well, now you do. He also finished third among Rangers’ d-men in hits (98) and blocked shots (77) in all situations.
Miller earned a spot on the NHL’s All-Rookie Team for what was undeniably a successful rookie campaign in New York. He also finished 12th in Calder voting, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Grade | Mike: A-, Banter Staff: B
Is giving Miller an A- a bit generous given his puck management and his modest assist numbers? Probably, but, big picture, I think he had a great rookie season. He’s the first Rangers rookie to make the NHL’s All-Rookie Team since Brady Skjei in 2017 — before Skjei it was Michael Del Zotto in 2010.
In many ways, Miller was exactly what we thought he was. Some aspects of his game are a work in progress but there’s no denying the potential here. It’s nice to have promising young players, isn’t it?