The New York Rangers made a run to the Eastern Conference Final this postseason, and though they fell short of their ultimate goal, there are many positives to take away from the season. A lot of players stepped up, including 22-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller, who improved throughout the season and became a force on defense.
Miller’s Improved Play
After a strong 2020-21 season as a rookie, Miller got off to a slow start this season. He didn’t play with enough physicality, even though he’s 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, and he relied heavily on stick checking, which sometimes allowed opponents to get around him. He also played a bit tentatively in the offensive zone, and often looked to get the puck to his defense partner Jacob Trouba, rather than shooting the puck himself.
Miller had to adjust to having a new head coach this season, and he had to earn coach Gerard Gallant’s trust. Early in the season, Miller frequently ended up benched on the penalty kill and late in close games, as Gallant opted to play Patrik Nemeth in those situations.
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In his first 29 games, Miller had two goals and two assists while averaging just over 18 minutes in ice time per game. Though he did not provide much offense early in the season, he did score a highlight-reel coast-to-coast goal against the Florida Panthers, which showcased his excellent skating ability. He also played fairly well defensively and thoroughly outplayed Nemeth, leading to increased ice time and opportunities.
Miller began to play with more physicality while still using his long reach effectively and he became an important penalty-killer and someone the Rangers could trust late in close games. He started to join the rush more often and stopped passing up opportunities to get shots on goal. He scored a clutch go-ahead goal in the final minute of a game against the Seattle Kraken in January, which lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory. He also scored a game-winning shootout goal against the Boston Bruins a few weeks later.
In total, Miller had seven goals and 13 assists while playing in all 82 regular season games, averaging 20:36 in ice time per game.
Miller’s Play in the Postseason
After a strong end to his regular season, Miller proved to be one of New York’s top defensemen in the playoffs. He used his strength to clear the front of the net, his reach to get in shooting and passing lanes, and his speed to create chances.
Miller made a few crucial plays in Game 7 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Rangers trailing 2-1 in the second period, he scored on a wrist shot to tie the game at two. Then in overtime, he stole the puck from Brock McGinn and blew by him to create a breakaway and draw a penalty. Artemi Panarin went on to score the series-winning goal on the ensuing power play.
During Game 7 of Round 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes, Miller had an assist, but more importantly, he played excellent defense all series despite playing in two consecutive long, physical series. He continued his strong defensive play in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and also scored in a 3-2 Game 2 victory, beating Andrei Vasilevskiy on a wrist shot.
Miller finished the postseason with two goals and five assists while playing in all 20 of New York’s postseason games. He averaged 24:47 in ice time per game, had 46 hits, and blocked 29 shots.
For Miller Moving Forward
Miller played like a star for the Rangers late in the regular season and during the postseason, as he used his rare combination of size, strength, and speed effectively. He improved dramatically and earned Gallant’s trust.
The Rangers will rely on Miller to continue his strong defensive play next season and he must also consistently play with physicality. Additionally, he has the potential to contribute offensively as he has a heavy slap shot, as well as an accurate wrist shot, and he is becoming more and more confident.
Miller’s development has already paid off for the Rangers and fans should be excited about the growth of the impressive, young blueliner.