With the Devils' fantastic season closing out, my attention now turns solely to the upcoming draft on June 22-23 in Dallas. We still have two prospects playing in their respective CHL conference championship series, and I'll keep you updated on them, but over the next few months I'll be posting write-ups about draft-eligible players. While our draft placement is still undetermined today, we should be somewhere in the 17-20 spot, so I'll go from there. My philosophy is always draft Best Player Available, and chances are it will be a defenseman, so I will focus mostly on defensemen, but there are some really interesting forwards that should be available around our pick as well.
Anyways, now to the main event...let's talk about K'Andre Miller.
6'3" 206 lbs
53 games, 8G 19A 27 points
His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #16
ISS Hockey - #30
FutureConsiderations - #25
McKeens - #17
NHL Central Scouting - #23 (NA Skaters)
I wanted to start with Miller because he's just such an interesting prospect. He was a forward throughout his entire career until the 2015/2016 season, and he is still a pretty raw prospect. He has some hiccups and makes mistakes with his reads regarding passing lanes and pinching up in the neutral zone, however I do chalk this up to him still learning the position.
The first thing you notice about Miller, besides how big of a human being he is, is his incredible skating. This isn't even one of those "he's a good skater for his size" type cliches either. The guy can skate. He likes to rush the puck up the ice and be a team's 4th forward in situations (per this article/interview with him). All aspects of his skating are excellent - acceleration, edgework, agility, etc. Combine this with his powerful stride and strong lower-body, and you also get a player who is really difficult to knock off the puck...as well as easily win board battles (more on that later).
Miller is committed to the University of Wisconsin for next season, which I think is an excellent development path. Should he want to go to the CHL, the Victoria Royals of the WHL own his rights - he was initially drafted by the Saskatoon Blades, but those rights were included in a trade with Victoria. Wisconsin has been rebuilding their program recently, and Miller will be the crown jewel of their recruitment class.
On the offensive side of things, it's easy to see why Miller was a forward all his life. He has excellent puck-handling skills and has settled really well into the role of playing on the point in the offensive zone. That being said, he doesn't have a cannon of a one-timer that some folks look for in their defenseman on the point. He does, however, have an excellent wrist shot. Recently, he's changed the wind-up on his one-timer, which has helped the puck move quicker (as well as giving the opposing goaltender less time to move/prepare for the shot). He's definitely not afraid to take the puck to the net himself if he feels that he has a good lane to the net.
At this point, Miller is projected to go in the 22-24 range, so if that range holds, and assuming Miller is our guy, I can definitely see Shero trading back a spot or two in attempt to recuperate some assets and keep the cupboard stocked.
Miller is an excellent neutral-zone player. He positions himself and his stick really well in the NZ and intercepts a ton of passes there, especially cross-ice passes. His skating then allows him to start a quick transition the other way. His defensive zone outlets are clean (more on his defensive zone play later), but it is his neutral zone play that makes me really think that Paul Castron and Company are really looking into him. The ability he has to be a "snake lurking in the grass" type player in the neutral zone in his fast counter-attack is really promising.
Defensively, Miller maintains good gap control, and has worked well learning to push speedy forwards to the outside of the ice. He doesn't lose his cool and really doesn't take many penalties either. Oh, and he loves to hit...he's really aggressive with his physicality. Clearing out the crease or attacking puck-carriers along the boards, Miller is one of the most physical defenseman in this draft. He's made some real punishing hits. His outlet passes are clean, and he's been improving all season with his defensive play behind the goal line.
What you'll read in a lot of places (including earlier in this write-up) is that K'Andre Miller is a very raw player. I agree, but if you look at his skating, raw athleticism, speed of play, and smarts, I really don't think he's very far off. Steve Kournianos of TheDraftAnalyst says that perhaps his learning curve isn't steep at all. It's also easy for a guy like Miller that is focusing on his defensive game to get overlooked by the other members of the USNDTP defensive corps - who are much more polished puck-movers. Miller is a bit of a boom or bust pick, but I don't think it's to a severe extent (I know this more or less nullifies the term "boom or bust"). However, I will say that those writing him off as simply defensive defenseman are looking at his floor. The biggest question regarding Miller's development is whether he can put it all together - this mainly involves his reading of the play...it's a different point of view from a defenseman, and can his instincts from playing forward all those years not only adapt to a defenseman's game, but also continue to propel his development towards the NHL level. If he can put it all together, the sky is the limit for this two-way defenseman. There is definite top-pairing upside. He reminds me a lot of Brady Skjei from the team across the river (purely as stylistic comparison). Another comparison for his play (this one from LastWordOnSports) include Morgan Rielly.
This draft is really deep on defense. If that's the direction we're going in, you have to make sure you make the right choice. Is K'Andre Miller the right choice for the Devils? I've been watching a lot of footage on him and I like him more and more, but I want to hear your thoughts! I'll have a write-up on another defenseman soon - one who's been rapidly rising up the draft boards lately.
Thank you for reading!