The New York Rangers have arguably the best young core of players in the NHL, but most fans seem to forget about K’Andre Miller. Maybe this is because there was a concern about whether or not Miller would make the team’s official roster this season. Well, Miller did make the team, and he’s looked great on the ice so far in three games this season. Coach David Quinn hasn’t even considered benching Miller even after a shaky first game. Miller is the favorite for playing time at the bottom of the defensive depth chart. Thus far, he’s played all three games, while Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith have each been benched for a game.
The Perfect Combination
In the opener, Miller played alongside Tony DeAngelo, and it was clear that the match wasn’t meant to be. Then, in the Rangers 5-0 win over the Islanders, coach Quinn sat DeAngelo and paired Miller with Brendan Smith. This combination dominated on the ice. Miller and Smith were the only Rangers on the ice for three out of the team’s four even-strength goals. In over 11 minutes of ice time with Miller paired alongside Smith, the Rangers outshot the Islanders 8-2. Of course, this is just one game, but the key to K’Andre Miller’s success and the team’s success is to keep Miller and Smith together as the third pairing.
Brendan Smith is the perfect teammate to pair alongside Miller. The two defensemen are both proud alumni of the University of Wisconsin. The veteran Smith has been fighting for that last roster spot for years. It seems like he will get the chance to serve in the mentor role this year. After all, 31 years is old when playing for the youngest team in the NHL. New York has the lowest average age in the NHL and the least amount of total games of experience. The Rangers want their young stars to develop. The best way for a young player to grow is to play alongside an established veteran. Pairing K’Andre with Smith allows for Fox to pair with Trouba and Lindgren with Johnson. Miller will thrive alongside Smith, and the team will play better as a whole.
What Makes K’Andre Miller So Special?
Regardless of the pairing, K’Andre Miller has the potential to be a star in the NHL. The Rangers have struggled in recent memory on the defensive end of the ice, an area in which Miller will thrive. Miller’s physical tools are like no other. The kid is massive, standing at 6’5 and 210 pounds. He has a long reach and a brilliant hockey IQ already. Miller will leave opponents shaking after hits, and his physicality alone will provide a much-needed spark on the defensive end for the Rangers.
Another remarkable attribute that Miller possesses is his excessive speed in the open ice. Sam Rosen, the legendary voice for the Rangers, said that Miller “has wheels.” Coming from a man who has seen many great players suit up, it should be common knowledge that Miller’s skating ability is among the elites in the NHL. The best part is, he’s only a rookie. He can get even stronger and faster. His skill set is still incredibly raw, but his physical attributes and high hockey IQ means the sky’s the limit. Even as a rookie, his coach fully trusts him in-game situations.
Learning From Last Season
Playing on the same team as high draft picks such as Alexis Lafreniere and Kappo Kakko means that there will be less attention towards Miller. Adam Fox benefited from the attention towards Kakko and had a great rookie season. Kakko struggled at first when he was immediately placed on the second line as a teenager. When Kakko was demoted to the third and even fourth lines, he picked up his play. I believe that David Quinn should keep Miller at the bottom of the depth chart just like he did for Kakko. This puts less pressure on the rookie and allows him to lead the third or fourth group. New York has a great group of young players, and Miller’s name should be mentioned in that conversation. The Rangers certainly aren’t in win-now mode, but the experience is critical for K’Andre and the New York Rangers.