Countdown to camp: Kevan Miller
Countdown to Camp: Kevan Miller
From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Kevan Miller.
Kevan Miller is what you call a “polarizing player” for the Boston Bruins. On the one hand, he's a tough, rugged, stay-at-home defenseman who makes opponents pay the price, has decent offensive skills for what he is, and is hugely respected by his teammates. On the other hand, he's a target of criticism from fickle Bruins fans for his limitations, and is one player that hasn’t been done any favors by the B’s defense situation, which forces him to play higher in the lineup. It seems both sides can agree that the former UVM D-man got better as last season went along, and that's a source of optimism. But Miller has blown up the expectations for his game after signing a four-year, $10 million contract this summer, and he’ll need to be consistently better this season.
What Happened Last Year
Miller struggled in the first half of the season when he was routinely slotted into a top-pairing role with Zdeno Chara and was averaging close to 20 minutes of ice time per game. He was getting exploited by top offensive players too often, and the 28-year-old was among several Bruins defensemen who experienced difficulty breaking the puck out of their own zone. But once the minutes were scaled back a bit and he was treated more like the bottom-pairing D-man he really is, things got better for Miller. He had two goals and five points in his final 29 games along with a plus-10 rating, and was closer to 17 minutes of ice time per game rather than 20. Miller also managed to remain largely healthy and play 71 games, which was a welcome change after missing half of the prior season with shoulder surgery. So it was a bit of an uneven year, but at least the ending was a good one for Miller.
Questions To Be Answered This Season
Can the Bruins finally find a place for Kevan Miller among their top-6 that’s suitable to his skills? In simpler terms, are the Bruins going to finally just let Miller settle into his bottom-pairing role or are they going to continue to force him into a top-4 spot, where he struggled last season? At age 28, Miller is what he is: A hard-hitting and punishing stay-at-home defenseman with occasional flashes of offensive inspiration that looks a little bit worse the more he’s featured against top players. He’s certainly not the kind of partner who should be paired with a slowing, aging Zdeno Chara against the other team’s best players. Both Chara and Miller need to be paired with players who are faster, sleeker and more skilled than they are, and that wasn’t the case enough of the time last season. The Bruins also have a decision to make as to whether they can afford to pay Miller and Adam McQuaid a combined $5 million-plus per season, or if they eventually must move one of the two similarly rugged, right-shot D-men. But that might not be a question to be answered this season.
In their words
“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways. I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”
-- Kevan Miller, talking about getting faster and more streamlined with his puck-moving while staying true to his rugged, punishing physicality.
If Miller can remain healthy, he will be a hard-hitting, physical and very necessary part of the Bruins work in the defensive zone. If he can slot properly into the defense group, he could really put together a very successful season. If the Bruins again get stretched too thin on their back end or if Miller gets banged up again as a result of his trademark punishing style, it could be a rough start to a four-year commitment between the D-men and the Bruins. The problem for Miller is that he’s no longer a hard-nosed player surviving on a minimal NHL contract. Now he’s being paid like one of the best bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL, and that means the expectations have been raised for an undrafted college player who had very humble beginnings in the B’s organization. It’s up to Miller to see if he can meet those elevated expectations, and for the Bruins to put him into a situation where he can succeed. There’s every chance Miller could be very effective for the B’s this season if he’s used properly.