K’Andre Miller hasn’t played in a real hockey game since March 7, 2020, when he was in his sophomore season at Wisconsin competing in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs.
Oh, how much can change in less than a year.
The 6-foot-5 defenseman, who turns 21 in nine days, is now looking like a shoe-in to make the Rangers’ opening night roster and begin his NHL career after dazzling the coaching staff through his first official training camp with the club.
“I think I’ve never been so prepared for a season,” Miller said on a Zoom call Monday. “Training with [strength and conditioning consultant] Ben Prentiss, he really pushed me to be in the position that I am in today. Conditioning-wise, weight-wise, strength-wise, all these different aspects to the game to prepare me for this next level.”
The Rangers’ 22nd-overall pick in 2018 has been high on the team’s radar since he participated in the pre-playoff camp this past summer, despite the fact that he was ineligible to compete due to league rules.
With ample time to get better acquainted with the team and its systems, Miller believes he was put in an even better position to make the varsity squad for this upcoming season. He said it gave him an extra boost of confidence while he prepared this offseason.
David Quinn has noted they’ve only seen Miller in a team setting, but the third-year head coach hasn’t been shy about how impressed he has been with the Minnesota native throughout camp.
“We all have to keep in mind it was bubble practices and training camp so far, but what has impressed me is how calm he’s been,” Quinn said. “He’s worked hard, he’s closed down people, he’s made good decisions with the puck and from a defending standpoint, he’s like a praying mantis with that stick and his arms and his legs.
“He’s tough to get around, and you think you have him beat, there he is with his stick. There’s just an awful lot to like about him.”
Miller said he considers himself a shutdown defenseman with offensive abilities and a good stick, while adding that he likes to “throw my body around” in the defensive zone. He had two solid seasons at Wisconsin, including a freshman campaign that was cut short due to injury, combining for 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 62 games.
Though he doesn’t think he’s made too big of an adjustment to his college game, Miller has made it a priority to pick the brains of his veteran teammates.
“The biggest thing for me is just learning,” Miller said. “Obviously, this next level, it’s hard. Everybody is good. I think just learning from the older guys that have been through it, just picking up little things to work on and look out for has been huge for me. Obviously, like I said, it’s been a long offseason, so watching a ton of film, hitting the weight room and just trying to prepare myself for the season is kind of the mindset I’ve been the last couple of months.”
In the last two practices, Miller has taken reps next to the 6-foot-3 Jacob Trouba, forming a ginormous defensive pairing that “takes up a lot of space,” according to Quinn. There’s a strong possibility the Miller-Trouba duo could make its debut on Thursday.
“I would say [my confidence level is] at an all-time high,” Miller said. “I have a lot to prove, obviously, still this first couple of weeks. It’s going to come quick with a game already Thursday. I can’t wait for the puck to drop and actually get into game situations.”