]t’s hard not to get carried away with just how impressive K’Andre Miller has been for the Rangers this season. It’s probably best, though, to heed the advice of the great football coach Bill Parcells, who, whenever he was asked by reporters about the latest phenom, always used to say, "Let’s not put him in Canton yet, fellas!’’
That would be Canton, Ohio, site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The point was well taken then and certainly is applicable in Miller’s case now. It’s been a fast start for the 21-year-old rookie defenseman, but entering Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Miller had played a grand total of seven games in his NHL career. So we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
It’s just that Miller has been soooo good in those seven games. It truly seems as though the sky is the limit for the kid right now.
"He’s got wonderful feet for a big man,’’ Rangers radio analyst Dave Maloney said of the 6-5, 210-pound Miller. "Somebody was saying he might be the next-generation Chris Pronger. And my first thought was, ‘I think he skates better than Pronger. He’s got better feet.’
"Now you know that’s a leap, right? Pronger’s a Hall of Famer,’’ Maloney continued. "But it’s better to be talking about [Miller] that way than comparing him to somebody else who came in a blaze of glory and flamed out.’’
Maloney, a Rangers defenseman in the 1970s and 1980s, recalled the 2018 NHL Draft. Maloney’s brother Don (also a former Ranger) was working for Calgary at the time, and the Flames loved Miller, who then was 6-3 and 198 pounds.
The question everyone had about Miller was his lack of experience as a defenseman, given that he’d been switched to the position as a high school sophomore. The Rangers, who had three first-round picks that summer, traded the second of those, No. 26 overall, plus a second-rounder to Ottawa to get the No. 22 selection and draft Miller.
"I remember asking David Quinn about him,’’ Maloney said. "They knew they had something there, but I don’t think anybody expected it to come this quickly.’’
Miller has stepped up to play on a defensive pair with Jacob Trouba, often playing against opposing teams’ top lines (he saw a good bit of Sidney Crosby in the Rangers’ first game against Pittsburgh Jan. 22), and his plus/minus rating of +6 through seven games was the highest on the team.
Miller also had a goal and an assist in those seven games, making him second on the team in scoring among defensemen (behind Adam Fox).
He’s not an overly physical player — he’s credited with eight hits this season — but he was credited with more takeaways (four) than giveaways (three).
Of course, there’s more to Miller than just the on-ice stuff. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, he is biracial, with a Black father and a white mother.
After signing with the Rangers in March following his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, his first official function with the team was a Zoom meet-and-greet with Rangers fans early in the NHL’s coronavirus shutdown. During the call, someone wrote a racial slur in the chat function and repeated it over and over. The perpetrator was never identified.
Miller didn’t speak publicly about the incident until a couple of months later in the wake of the national protests after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was arrested for buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill and subsequently died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. A number of athletes, including NHL players, spoke out in support of the protests, and Miller issued a statement on Instagram in which he talked about his experiences in hockey as a player of color. It was a powerful statement.
Miller is the only player of color on the Rangers this season, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for the team or the fans. In the times he’s been made available to the reporters covering the team, he hasn’t been asked about his incident or his subsequent statement. All of the questions he’s been asked have been strictly about hockey.
Miller has handled those questions with confidence, showing no signs of nervousness about facing the media and having the spotlight on himself. His performance in the postgame interviews has been just as calm and confident as his performance in the games.
And that, Maloney believes, says something about Miller as a player.
"Color’s not an issue for me,’’ said Maloney, who is white. "I just look at the guy. The guy’s a big, strong guy that has a wonderful thought process. And I think when you listen to him speak, you know, maybe it does make some sense — that his game is beyond just his athleticism.’’