Kevan Miller’s absence from the Boston Bruins’ lineup has become the norm this season. The 31-year-old missed more than half of the regular season with injuries, appearing in just 39 games.
Miller’s most recent injury came in Boston’s win over the Minnesota Wild on April 4, after which it was revealed that the veteran defenseman had sustained a lower-body injury.
Early reports that Miller would be out for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs (that was less than a month ago, believe it or not) were woefully underestimated. Miller was deemed out of commission for the series, with rumblings that the Bruins would be without their ferocious 6-foot-2 defenseman for the remainder of the postseason.
Return of the Killer?
The absence of Miller on Boston’s back end has been noticeable at points in both the regular and postseason. He isn’t the type of player who you’d expect to go coast to coast or expertly quarterback a power play, but he has an undeniable presence. The high-energy, physical style that has made the Bruins successful, especially through the first two rounds of the playoffs, is the type of game that Miller excels at.
Unfortunately, the “Killer,” as many Bruins fans know him, has been unable to provide that energy for his team this postseason… But will he?
Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney offered a slightly optimistic update on Miller before the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Kevan’s made some progress, so we’re hopeful,” said Sweeney, per WEEI’s Ty Anderson. “He’s got some tests, some benchmarks he has to before he gets back on the ice, but he’s made some progress. So, we told him all along, the further we play, the more he has an opportunity to continue to work and get back in there. Hopefully, we give him that opportunity.”
This is a very cautious take from Sweeney, so seeing Miller back on the ice in the immediate future is likely a stretch. That being said, this is an unexpectedly positive update regarding a worsening injury situation, so any hint of a return is welcome.
I wouldn’t expect to see Miller working his way back into the lineup in the first half of the Eastern Conference Final, but if the Bruins keep kicking, who’s to say when Miller could return?
What Miller Adds for Bruins
If Miller does return to the Bruins lineup this postseason, be it against the Hurricanes or in the Stanley Cup Final, how much of an impact could he make? After all, he’s a staple of Boston’s third defensive pairing, so should we really expect an impact? The answer is yes.
For starters, Miller’s aggressive style is exactly what the Bruins need. The postseason always tightens up and becomes more physical, and that’s the type of situation in which Miller excels. With his size and style of play, he is capable of handling larger opponents (he would’ve been helpful against Columbus’ Josh Anderson, for example).
Granted, if the Bruins bring back Miller, he may not be at 100%, so his physicality may not be quite up to snuff with what we’re used to seeing from him. Still, Miller has expertise in clearing bodies and establishing a physical presence, something that has worked for the Bruins so far.
Additionally, over the past two seasons, Miller has established himself as one of Boston’s more consistent defenders. Again, he isn’t usually one to impress on the offensive side of the puck, but in his own end, Miller is a reliable defender who can be trusted to lock down his man. Time is an enemy of memory, and Bruins fans haven’t seen much of Miller lately, but when you think of the progress he’s made in his defensive game over the last few seasons, you’ll realize how far he’s come, and the steady impact he could have if he returns.
On the flip side, he also provides more veteran experience for a young defense corps. Charlie McAvoy may be settled into the postseason grind with more than 30 games under his belt, but Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton combine for just over 20 playoff games. Miller has 29 postseason games under his belt, but as someone who’s been in the league for six years, he’s earned veteran status.
The Bruins have had a fluid defensive corps this postseason, with Miller, Clifton, and John Moore all missing time due to injuries and McAvoy’s suspension that will force him to miss Game 1 against the ‘Canes. Still, Boston has had some good team defense (largely thanks to Tuukka Rask, who had an outstanding series against the Blue Jackets). If Miller does return, he could be a rock for a beaten up Bruins D.