Four games into his NHL career, K’Andre Miller seems to be fitting in just fine for the Rangers.
The rookie defenseman, who turned 21 on Thursday, stood out as perhaps the best defenseman for the Blueshirts in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins on Friday, and there was no greater indicator of that than the fact that his coach, David Quinn, sent him out for a shift in the 3-on-3 overtime. Miller was one of only three defensemen who played in the five-minute overtime for the Rangers, the other two being Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo.
"It's certainly been a smooth transition for him so far,’’ Quinn said after the game, when asked about Miller making the jump from college hockey, at the University of Wisconsin, to the NHL. "I just love the way he played today. His gaps were good. He was physical, he was just confident with the puck, there were just a lot of good things out of his game today.
"And, you know, he wasn't afraid, regardless of who was out there, whether it was (Evgeny) Malkin or (Sidney) Crosby or whoever,’’ Quinn continued. "I mean he was playing hockey. And it's nice to see a kid that age, play with that type of swagger.’’
How much swagger did Miller have Friday night? The Rangers held off all training camp in making Miller available to the media on the daily Zoom calls, but as comfortable as he’s been on the ice, the 6-5, 210-pounder has come off as polished in his dealings with the media, too. He was one of three players the Rangers made available after the game, and he handled all the questions he was faced with flawlessly.
He admitted to being nervous in his first game, and said of earning his first NHL point, an assist on Kaapo Kakko’s second-period goal, "It’s a starter.’’ And when asked if playing in the NHL has been easier than he might have imagined, he kind of said it wasn’t that hard.
"I wouldn't say ‘easier,’ ’’ he said. "I would just say the game's kind of coming more natural. Guys are usually in the right position, so it's making my game a lot easier. During breakouts, neutral zone, whatever the case may be, guys are always prepared, and always open. And I always seem to have an outlet. So, the guys are making it really easy on me.’’
He credited his defense partner on Friday, Jacob Trouba, who he described as "an older mentor that's been through the game, that's logged a lot of minutes, a lot of games in the NHL.’’ Trouba, he said, has "helped me a ton in these four games.’’
But Miller has helped himself as well. The 2018 first-round pick made a major impression in the Rangers’ July training camp, before the team went to the Toronto bubble for the NHL’s August restart. And he was strong in the training camp that preceded this season, as well. In his first four games, he’s played two alongside Trouba and two next to Brendan Smith, and he’s been noticeable, in a good way, in all four. On Friday, he played a career high 21:17 and was credited with two shots on goal, five hits, one takeaway, no giveaways, and one blocked shot.
On the season, Miller has played a total of 64:33, an average time on ice (ATOI) of 16:08. He’s been on ice for five goals for, and one against, and he has yet to take a penalty. Quinn hasn’t thrown Miller out on the power play or the penalty kill just yet, but there’s no reason to think that isn’t coming soon -- at least the penalty kill part. At the rate Miller is going, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t handle it.