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Rangers rookie defenseman K'Andre Miller has that veteran presence

K'Andre Miller of the Rangers looks on after

K'Andre Miller of the Rangers looks on after a goal by Jason Zucker of the Penguins during the first period at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Stier

K’Andre Miller’s third career goal was hardly the difference-maker in the Rangers’ 8-3 victory over the host Flyers on Thursday night. It made the score 6-0 early in the second period.

It was a cherry-on-top type of goal for the team and the 21-year-old rookie defenseman. Miller sent the puck in the general direction of the net from a step inside the blue line and was probably as surprised as anyone when it ticked in off indecisive Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who couldn’t decide whether to try and block the long shot.

It was that kind of night for the Flyers, who have lost their last two meetings with the Rangers by a combined score of 17-3. The Rangers will try to continue that dominance on Saturday afternoon when the teams face off again at Wells Fargo Center.

The Rangers have been scoring goals in bunches of late, so it’s not necessary for Miller to spend too much time worrying about that part of his game. He knows his true value comes from the things that defensemen have to worry about — and which it’s rare for one as young as Miller to be so adept at.

"I know the team has relied on him a lot throughout the season," acting coach Kris Knoblauch said after an optional practice on Friday. "[He] has a lot of responsibilities on the penalty kill, power play, playing top-four minutes even strength. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a young defenseman. He has accepted it, and not only has he accepted it, he’s excelled at it."

Said Miller: "Obviously going up against these top guys in the league every night, it’s a challenge. But I embraced it and I love those battles against those top lines. I think it just gives me more confidence, honestly, having that extra target on my back, defending those guys hard and making sure they keep the puck out of our net."

And, every now and then, putting in the other team’s net.

"I feel like my confidence is still growing every game with the puck," Miller said. "Getting more chances to join the rush when the time is right. Just little things like that -- moving the puck quick and getting it out of the zone effectively has been kind of one of my go-to main objectives."

Miller played 21:31 of ice time on Thursday. He has 23 games with at least 20:00 of ice time, which is the most among NHL rookies this season.

"I would say this season’s been pretty crazy," Miller said. "A lot of adversity, a lot of things that you have to adjust to on the fly. I think our older guys have helped me specifically just gain that confidence in this next level and [in] bringing it every night."

Notes& Quotes: Igor Shesterkin will start in goal on Saturday after returning from a 10-game absence (groin injury) on Thursday and stopping 40 shots. Alexandar Georgiev is likely to play on Sunday at Washington . . . Knoblauch said he didn’t expect top prospect Vitali Kravtsov to debut on Saturday, but added "things could change."

New York Sports