K'Andre Miller #79 of the Rangers skates against the Dallas Stars...

K'Andre Miller #79 of the Rangers skates against the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

NEWARK — K’Andre Miller had the secondary assist on Kaapo Kakko’s eventual game-winning goal for the Rangers against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. But that’s not what Rangers coach Peter Laviolette noticed about Miller that night.

“I thought he was a major influence from the defensive zone on . . . Kaapo's goal [because of] the plays that he made in the defensive zone,’’ Laviolette said of Miller after Wednesday’s practice. “He doesn't get credit for it, but I'm just telling you that that goal was a result of him. I made sure I went down on the bench and told him that right away. It doesn't happen without him, and what he did, and how he closed and defended, and got the puck going in a different direction.’’

It’s been something of an up-and-down season for Miller, who turned 24 last month and had major expectations for himself after signing a two-year, $7.744 million bridge contract last summer following the expiration of his rookie deal. The 6-5, 210-pound defenseman entered Thursday’s game against the Devils at Prudential Center with seven goals and 14 assists in 54 games, but he hadn’t scored a goal in his last 23 games prior to Thursday.

His last goal had come Dec. 27, when he scored twice in a 5-1 win over Washington, but Miller said that he hasn’t been concerned with the long time since his last goal.

“It doesn't bother me,’’ he said Wednesday. “I mean, it's coming. I think I've had the looks. I think I have the shot. They're just not going in.’’

The native of St. Paul, Minnesota, had career highs in goals (nine), assists (34) and points (43) last season. And even when he was scoring goals at a higher rate earlier this season, he often said he believed he still could be better, and do more. But he and his defense partner Jacob Trouba had some down moments at points, and Miller said he is still learning that there are going to be highs and lows within seasons.

“Obviously, it's been an up and down year,’’ he said. “I’ve gone through some slumps. I think that's going to happen during an 82-game season, though, ups and downs through the year. And I think I’m just getting a little bit more used to . . . just being able to deal with the adversity of going up and down in the year and still trying to figure out and pick out good things to build off of, and to grow from.’’

Overall, Miller said, he believes his body of work from the start of the season to now has been good.

“I feel like I've probably had a couple of good games together now,’’ he said. “I'm pretty happy [with my play].’’

Laviolette said he thought Miller was really good on Tuesday, and he made it a point to go up to Miller on the ice at Wednesday’s practice to let him know how well he had played the night before.

The coach also said Miller’s scoring drought means nothing, as long as the defenseman is playing well all-around.

“The offense is a byproduct of your game itself,’’ Laviolette said. “And it doesn't have to be goals. It can be helping in other ways.’’

One thing that was noticeable Tuesday was how effective Miller seems to be in four-on-four situations. The Rangers were skating four-on-four when Kakko scored his goal.

“There’s a little bit more space out there — I think it's a little bit more man-on-man,’’ Miller said of playing four-on-four hockey. “So, I don't know, I seem to like that style of play.’’

“He plays all situations, so the fact that he plays four-on-four isn't a special nod to a skill set that he has,’’ Laviolette said. “What I think makes him dangerous and effective is his skating; his ability to pull away, his ability to defend, as well. if there's open ice for us, he can attack it offensively. If there's a breakdown in the offensive zone or the neutral zone, he has the speed to get back and help defend that.’’

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