The New York Rangers have relied heavily on their top four defensemen all season, and one of the keys to their success has been the strong play of K’Andre Miller. The 22-year-old blueliner got off to a slow start this season, but he has steadily improved and become a force at both ends of the ice.
Miller’s Play Last Season and Early This Season
Last season as a rookie Miller stepped up for the Blueshirts. He immediately became a top-four defenseman and formed chemistry with his defense partner, Jacob Trouba. The two became a reliable defensive pair, and Miller used his long reach to break up passes while also using his speed to chase down opponents.
Miller also demonstrated a good feel for the game, knowing when to pinch in the offensive zone and when to back off. He looked comfortable carrying the puck up ice, and made clean breakout passes from the defensive zone. He also had a strong shot from the point and he finished the season with five goals and seven assists in 53 games.
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Despite playing very well last season, Miller had a habit of relying on stick checks rather than using his strength and size (he’s is 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds) to his advantage. He made the same mistakes early this season, and also had a few uncharacteristic giveaways.
Early this year Miller would often look to get the puck to Trouba, rather than carrying the puck himself. He still made some great plays defensively, and scored a highlight-reel coast-to-coast goal, but he had an inconsistent start to the season. He had two goals, four assists, and was minus-1 in his first 39 games.
Miller’s Play Recently
After his slow start this season, Miller has stepped up for the Rangers. He has become an excellent penalty killer, and recently he has played with much more physicality. He is no longer passing up the opportunity to throw hits and is using his strength to knock opponents off the puck, rather than relying on stick checking.
In addition to his very strong defensive play, Miller is also contributing offensively. He’s using his speed to join the rush, and he has been much more confident with the puck. He scored on a great wrist shot in overtime to lift the Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. He has always had a powerful shot and now he’s becoming an offensive threat without sacrificing his defensive play.
Miller and Trouba have played very well at both ends of the ice, and they can be trusted in all situations. The two have been very consistent over the last two months, and they both stepped up with Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren going through a bit of a slump. In his last 27 games, Miller has four goals, five assists, and is plus-14.
Very few players have the combination of size, strength, and speed that Miller has, and he is showing that he can be an offensive weapon, in addition to a shutdown defender.
For Miller and the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers will continue to rely heavily on Miller down the stretch this season. He is especially valuable because the Blueshirts have struggled to find effective left-handed defensemen, with the exception of Lindgren and Miller himself. New York has plenty of talented right-handed defensemen, including Trouba, Fox, Braden Schneider, and Nils Lundkvist, who is currently playing in the American Hockey League (AHL).
It makes sense for the Blueshirts to try to sign Miller to a long-term extension now, given his impressive start to his NHL career. The Rangers have already signed Fox and Trouba to long-term extensions and Lindgren is in his first season of a three-year contract.
Miller is already proving that he can handle playing against opponents’ top scorers while also contributing offensively. At just 22 years old, his potential is extremely high, and his strong play in the second half of the season is one of the key reasons the Blueshirts are in a position to make the playoffs. It is also a very encouraging development for the future of the Rangers as he looks like he can be a top defenseman for years to come.