Although the start of the 2020-21 NHL season remains unknown, there are plenty of questions to be had of what the Rangers’ roster may look like.
More specifically, the blue line.
The loss of Marc Staal may amount to a larger loss than anticipated – with losing Staal, you are losing a veteran, a great locker room addition, and 999 games of experience in the NHL. With the abundance of defensive prospects coming up the pipeline, he will leave a hole in the lineup.
On the other hand, Staal’s departure leaves room for these young players to play their hardest and compete for a roster spot that wasn’t available last year.
K’Andre Miller is one of the question marks when it comes to the opening night roster.
Most NCAA players transition from college hockey to professional hockey by starting their professional careers in the AHL; this helps them adjust to the speed and lifestyle of professional hockey. However, in 2013, Chris Kreider left Boston College to immediately make his NHL debut with the Rangers – so this route for Miller is not completely unfathomable.
Miller, 20, registered 40 points in 66 games with the University of Wisconsin, who struggled this past season and lost in the first round of the Big 10 Tournament. In just 2 seasons with the Badgers, Miller has evolved into an acceptable offensive defenseman, who “wants to get up involved in a rush,” and, “has a very good shot and can put the puck on the tape in terms of passing the puck,” according to Wisconsin associate coach Mark Osiecki.
Over the past few years, the picture-Esque NHL defenseman has evolved from a player with more of a shut-down role to a more offensively minded player. Many defensemen of this kind have come from the NCAA – like Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes, Colorado’s Cale Makar (the reigning Calder Trophy winner), and even Adam Fox on the Blueshirts.
Having a knack for the offense is becoming more and more critical on the NHL level.
Miller has proven that he is capable of chipping in on offense – he tallied 5 goals and 17 assists to earn Big 10 honorable mention honors and a spot on the 2019 All-Freshman team.
The question is – can he maintain that on the NHL level come next season?
This is still questionable. Miller’s point totals dipped slightly sophomore year, registering 7 goals and 11 assists with a plus/minus of -7. However, this shouldn’t be alarming to anyone. Wisconsin underperformed this year as a team, and it’s quite possible that Miller was given a large load to carry.
This brings up the option of starting him in the AHL.
The AHL has not yet released a return-to-play; unlike the NHL, the AHL decided to cancel the rest of their season back in May. Due to a smaller league losing a ton a revenue, you would have to think that it is urgent to get AHL teams back on the ice. If their season happens in accordance with the NHL season, that option is there for Miller.
The ‘worst’ possible scenario is putting Miller in the AHL and having him develop in Hartford for a year – and, for the long run, this does not hurt whatsoever. What seems most likely, however, is sending Miller to Hartford for a couple of weeks to see how he does. In comparison to how well he played in college, it’s likely that he won’t be in the AHL for long.
Miller also got some experience with the New York team and staff this summer, when he was invited to training camp before the Rangers made their trip to Toronto. And especially with plenty of room on the Rangers’ back end, it seems likely that we will be seeing Miller on Broadway this season.
The future is bright for K’Andre Miller, and no matter the outcome of next season, he will without a doubt be a staple on the back end for the Rangers for years to come.
Featured Image: ---