With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft taking place less than month from now, it is clear that many players from the United States National Team Developmental Program will have their names called. There is a good chance that six of the seven American defensemen (Cam York is eligible for 2019) who suited up for the 2018 World U-18 Championships will be NHL prospects by the afternoon of June 23. Two of them have a good chance of being first rounders. Chris profiled one of them, Bode Wilde, a few days ago. Today, this profile focuses on the other potential first rounder: K’Andre Miller.
Who is K’Andre Miller?
According to his profile at Elite Prospects, K’Andre Miller was born on January 21, 2000 in Hopkins, Minnesota. He is listed at 6’4” and 205 pounds, he shoots with his left hand, and he’s a defenseman. I should note that his USA Hockey profile has him at 6’5” and 207 pounds. Either way, he’s a big man. Size is not at all an issue.
Both his EP and USA Hockey profile state Miller joined the USNTDP program in 2016-17. He’s played in two Five Nations tournaments, two at the U-17 and two at the U-18 level. As stated earlier, Miller was a member of the American blueline that took silver at the World U-18 Championships this year. That is his most high-profile appearance and definitely one that made one think he can be a potential first round pick. The USA Hockey profile notes how he did in each of those Five Nations tourneys and the EP profile lists him with a goal and two assists in the World U-18s. He put up a couple of points in each appearance; nothing that makes anyone stand up and go “wow,” but he wasn’t held off the scoresheet either.
As he played for the USNTDP, a closer look at his USHL and USNTDP stats at the USNTDP site is warranted. In 58 non-tourney games with the U-18s, Miller finished third among defensemen with nine goals and twenty assists. Miller finished second only to Wilde in shots on net with 103. I do not know if he had any power play time, but he did have two shorthanded goals so he had to have been on the PK. Miller did not often put his team in the box with the U-18s as he collected only 26 PIM. In USHL games, Miller played in 22 games and he finished tied for fourth in total points among defensemen with 16: two goals and fourteen assists. However, that’s a more impressive figure than it may look. He tied Wilde and Domenick Fensore with 16 points; Miller finished third among all defenders in shots with 48; Miller took only three minors in those 22 games; and Miller’s point-per-game rate of 0.73 was the best among all USNTDP defenders in USHL games. Again, these may not be amazing numbers, but it is evidence that the prospect can produce to a degree.
Speaking of degrees, the next step for Miller could be to pursue one. As listed in his EP profile, Miller has committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2018-19 season. This is a plus in that Miller can take more time to develop in college if need be.
There is one important personal note about Miller that comes up often about him. He is still relatively new to being a defenseman. This February 14, 2017 article by Becky Olsen at USA Hockey profiled a then-17 year old Miller, highlighting that he used to be a forward. He made the switch back in 2015 due to a team need for more defenders. In a way, this makes his current situation more impressive. Changing from forward to defense is not easy. Doing so while being a part of a collection of talented, young American players with the intent of development for international play is even harder. That Miller was not only able to join the USNTDP but remain at the position and play a prominent role on their U-17 and U-18 teams speaks very well to how he has picked up playing defense and how good he has been to do what he has done so far. This is a big reason why this big defenseman has a large amount of potential. He can still learn and experience more as a defenseman - and that could make him even better in the long run.
Where is K’Andre Miller Ranked?
In a general sense, K’Andre Miller has ranked fairly well among the services. Well enough to be talked about as a potential first round pick. Others, well, they’re not as sold. Here are the rankings to look at:
- NHL Central Scouting Services: North America - 23 (Final), North America - 31 (Midterm)
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst - 32 (May, Final 500), 28 (April, Top 62 at Sporting News), 24 (January Top 500), 32 (September Preseason 500)
- Future Considerations - 20 (Final)
- McKeen’s Hockey - 17 (April, Top 31 only)
- Hockey Prospect - 16 (March, Top 31 only)
- International Scouting Services - N/A (June, Final Top 31 only)
- Craig Button - 56 (March)
On the lower side, ISS latest list and Craig Button’s last list from March both have Miller outside of the top 31. Steve Kournianos’ ranking had Miller go up and then down a bit, which may suggest others just surpassed him. Of course, rankings are not necessarily the same as where someone will think will go in a draft. In this May 21 mock draft at The Sporting News, Kournianos has Miller going at 23rd overall. The other services like Future Considerations and older lists from Hockey Prospect and McKeen’s has Miller rated around where the New Jersey Devils will pick. To that end, he is worth considering.
What Others Say About K’Andre Miller
There’s plenty of good things out there about K’Andre Miller. Let’s begin with Steve Kourianos of The Draft Analysis. He wrote a specific profile back about him on February 23, 2018. Here’s the key paragraph:
Watching Miller smother in one end and skate effortlessly in the other makes me think his learning curve is not steep at all — he plays a clean, composed game in his own zone and looks fantastic when he’s unbridled. Miller can be physically intimidating, and his strong lower half makes rubbing out forwards of any size look easy. One thing to consider is that this group of NTDP defensemen is deep with offensively-gifted puck movers, so it’s natural for a cerebral kid like Miller to focus on his defensive-zone play and act decisively with the puck only when the opportunity makes sense. This type of approach reduces haphazard tendencies to a bare minimum. Choosing your favorite draft-eligible defensemen from this year’s version of the under-18 NTDP is a lot like being asked to pick your favorite child, but don’t be surprised if a less-heralded kid like Miller has the best NHL career out of any from his defense corps.
Kournianos likes how Miller skates, likes how he handles business in his own end of the rink, and thinks he has some real potential. I would definitely keep the part about why he has focused more on defense. As I understand it, Miller played with the more-offensively skilled players like Wilde and Spencer Stastney. I can see why Miller would be instructed to hang back more as Wilde takes chances. While Kournianos’ ranking of Miller dropped a bit from February, in his May 21 mock draft at the Sporting News, he had this short blurb that is consistent with his scouting report (he has Anaheim taking him at 23rd overall):
You know your team is hurting for help on defense when they ice blueline dinosaurs like Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin for a playoff series. Miller is a good piece to help the eventual transition toward quickness, especially since he is a converted forward who has the size and wheels to shut down opposing rushes in the neutral zone. He maintains a tight gap and finishes his checks with authority.
Again, it all reads well. After all, who doesn’t like a big defenseman who throws checks, can keep up against opposing forwards, and skates fast/well enough?
Ben Kerr’s profile of Miller at Last Word on Sports breaks down Miller’s game in a bit more detail. As usual, you should really read the whole thing. I will highlight three parts of the profile that stuck out to me. First, about Miller’s skating:
Miller is an outstanding skater. His stride seems almost effortless but generates very good speed in both directions. He can rush the puck up the ice, or pinch at the blue line and still get back defensively. Miller has very good acceleration as he reaches that top speed very quickly. His edgework, pivots, and agility are top notch. Miller changes direction effortlessly. He also can make quick cuts, as well as transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Miller has a strong lower body. He is tough to knock off the puck. His balance and power are also effective in winning battles on the boards, and in clearing the front of the net.
The way I see it, there will always be defensive-minded defensemen and offensive-minded defensemen, and defenders that have the skillset for both. But the big change today compared to, say, ten years ago in the NHL is that the expectation is that everyone needs to be able to skate well. Mechanics as well as quickness is crucial whether it is coming back on a backcheck, reacting to a play in your own end, or joining an attack either in transition or to get set up. Whereas the Ben Lovejoys of the league may fade in time, the Steve Santinis will have a better chance of sticking around. To that end, reading from Kerr that Miller can do all of these things in terms of motion is a big, big plus. I would go as far as to say that it is a big reason why he’s considered as a potential first round pick rather than a second round or later pick.
That said, there is some criticisms in Kerr’s profile. Maybe that is too harsh. A more accurate statement may be: areas of improvement. Two stick out here. First of these two comes from Kerr’s summary of his offensive game:
If there is a criticism it is that Miller plays a game that is almost too conservative at this point. He picks his spots for when to get involved in the offence but seems to wait for a near perfect opportunity. There are times he could push the play more and does not. However, this is an area that has really improved.
This may be tied to the notion that Miller has plenty of potential that has yet to be realized between being an 18-year old player and someone who has played defense for less than four seasons. I think Kournianos was hinting at this as his report noted that Miller played on a USNTDP team with defenders with more offensive flair and skills. On its own, I take this to mean that this is something that a coach can help Miller out with in addition to experience. That said, Kerr also noted that he’s made gains in this regard, which is encouraging.
The second is regarding the defensive skillset, Kerr wrote:
When playing down low, there are still some issues with his positioning and instincts, but these continue to get better.
Again, my read on this is that this is really tied to his relative lack of experience. As with knowing when to attack and take initiative on offense, a good coach could really help out Miller make further improvements. That he’s improved at it so far really points to how much upside he may have.
Over at the SBN’s Montreal blog, Eyes on the Prize, David St-Louis also put a detailed profile together of Miller. It’s a good profile with visual aids that show off what Miller can do. As with Kerr and Kournianos, St-Louis notes that Miller’s skating is impressive. Regarding the offense, St-Louis wrote the following:
Despite the great tools that he has, on the purely offensive side of the game, Miller isn’t as impressive. He has showcased that he has a good offensive flair, and hands, but his wrist shots — his preferred method of firing — needs work to be more threatening from the point. Considering his size, there could be even more power behind his release. He also needs to get the puck on net through traffic more consistently.
This is a bit interesting given that Miller was not shy about shooting the puck with the U-18 USNTDP team outside of tourneys. That the shot may not be so good is both another area to work on as well as a reason why he may not be touted more than he has been. Kerr’s profile also noted that Miller does not tend to have a lot power behind his shots too. This is another area of improvement. How much it improves may make a difference in terms of what his future role would be in professional hockey.
Between these three individual people who have seen and written about Miller’s game, one other common word also appeared: project. All three agree that it is impressive that Miller has come this far given how relatively new he is to the position compared to other prospects. But there’s plenty more to develop. Whoever drafts him would likely have to wait a few seasons to see if he actually realizes the upside potential that he may have. I can’t really disagree. I would also add to that whoever drafts him should have some confidence that Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato and coach Mark Osiecki can help Miller become the defenseman he could possibly become.
A Little Video
Unfortunately, there is not a single, comprehensive video of Miller’s highlights or his skillset out there. There are a couple of clips that are worth checking out. First, here’s Miller putting up a goal and an assist against Russia at the Five Nations tourney.
The assist is more impressive. It begins with Miller protecting the puck from a forechecker. Miller is able to get away and receive a pass that allows him to skate the puck up. Here, Miller does take a risk by carrying the puck in deep and making a bold pass from behind the goalline to his teammate for the score. This shows some signs of the offensive skills that Miller does have.
Second, here’s a clip of Miller getting two goals with the U-18 USNTDP team against Ferris State:
That first goal is a good poaching effort by Miller. He hangs back from everyone else, the puck comes out, and he didn’t hesitate at taking a shot. The second goal is more impressive as he calmly kept the puck in the zone. Here, he didn’t immediately fire the puck. He settled it on his forehand, saw somewhat of a shooting lane, and fired a shot that found its way in.
Third, here’s another set of highlights from the U-18 USNTDP team. They won this game 4-2 against Central Illinois and it features a goal and an assist from Miller where he took some chances.
The play before the assist saw Miller take the puck towards the net for a scoring chance. He correctly went back to the point afterwards, which helped Stastney out. Farabee tipped Miller’s shot for that assist. Later, in a 4-on-4 situation, Miller smoothly moved up after passing the puck from his own blueline, takes a pass to gain the zone, goes to the net, and finishes it. I know these are short highlights but I wonder if those who saw Miller do this here and there are wondering why he doesn’t do it more often? It’s clear that he can do it. Again, this may be something to work on.
An Opinion of Sorts
I like a lot of what I read and see out of K’Andre Miller. Being a very, very good skater is a plus. Being able to play physically without taking a lot of penalties is a plus. Being able to contribute at both ends and having done so (to a degree) is a plus. Being able to make the USNTDP and play significant minutes in various situations and tournaments while completing his third season ever at being a defenseman is an impressive plus. It is enough, in my opinion, to think that Miller could go to the Devils at 17th overall and I would probably be quite fine with it.
The big questions come down to the following four. One, how much upside potential does Miller really have? Two, can he realistically reach that? Three, are the Devils in a position to wait for Miller? From what is out there the answer to one could be quite a lot. And that is not a backhanded compliment. Upside has its own value. In the middle of the first round, pretty much every prospect has an issue or an area of their game they need to work on. Everyone will need some seasoning. I think it may be better to go with someone who could really thrive with development time rather than try to find someone more NHL-ready sooner rather than later. For the two, that’s going to depend on Miller, Wisconsin’s coaches, and the NHL team’s own system. A team can only really know about themselves and how they can flow down instruction and advice on how to improve. An organization who is not only willing but also able to do so will benefit. An organization that is not so good with projects may not. The answer to three is trickier. Again, these players are not going to be picked for the 2018-19 season. But with the dearth of defensemen in the system and the relative lack of success of defensemen prospects in recent seasons, Miller could easily be somebody the Devils may need to thrive sooner rather than later. If the Devils had other defenders in their system, then they may be able to take more of a risk.
This leads to the fourth question: Is Miller the right project for the Devils to be picking up? Miller has a lot of good tools. He’s disciplined, he’s a very good skater, he’s got the size most would want in a defenseman, and he’s established really quickly that he can be viable defenseman among his peers. These are all pluses. But what does that project out to be? A solid two-way defenseman who can solidify a top four blueline? A bigger, hopefully better version of Steve Santini - a defensive-minded defenseman who can skate well but will not help out much on offense? The ceiling may be high but where it ends is a question. To that end, wouldn’t the Devils be better off with someone with upside with a more pronounced offensive game - something the Devils seemingly always need help with?
These are questions I hope the Devils have been considering as they put their draft boards together amid the NHL Combine and other preparations for the 2018 NHL Draft. Miller is definitely among the defenders like Rasmus Sandin, Wilde, Jared McIssac (Mike profiled him yesterday), and Merkley that will go after the bigger prospects like Boqvist, Dobson, Bouchard, and Hughes. This could be a defenseman-heavy first round and I expect that Miller will be among them. Will it be for the Devils at 17? Again, I would be fine with it but I can’t help but feel there could be a better choice. But if Miller really does have this tremendous upside and meets most of it, then it would be a very shrewd pick.
That’s my take on K’Andre Miller. Yours may be different. What do you think of Miller in general? Are you impressed with how much Miller has done so far despite playing the position for just a few seasons? What do you think his upside could be - and could he reach it? Is he the sort of project prospect the Devils should pick up and work on? Should the Devils take him at 17th overall? Where do you think he will go in the draft? If you’ve seen him play for USNTDP or for America, what did you think of him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Miller in the comments. Thank you for reading.