K’Andre Miller stood out during the Rangers’ practices for the NHL’s postseason bubble last summer, but was not eligible to play once the games began.
Now the defenseman is opening eyes in training camp again and this time he is very much free to make the team.
A week away from the Rangers opening the regular season, coach David Quinn said that Miller was playing his way into the lineup, with his latest strong impression coming Thursday night during an intrasquad scrimmage.
“I thought K’Andre Miller was really good tonight,” Quinn said after the scrimmage. “He just moves so well, he takes up so much space, he’s got such a long reach, he closes on people quickly. His puck decisions, to me, have really been the surprise to all of us. We knew he made some good decisions, but to adapt as quickly as he has so far — and again, let’s keep it in check, it’s bubble practices and now it’s training camp — but he’s certainly shown a lot of things you look for in a defenseman.”
While the Rangers’ top four defensemen appear to be set — with Tony DeAngelo and Jacob Trouba, plus Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox — the competition for the third pair is underway. For Thursday’s scrimmage, the left-handed Miller was paired with Brendan Smith on the “white” team which notched a 6-1 win over the “blue” team. The 20-year-old Miller’s competition on the left side, including veteran Jack Johnson, Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto, were all on the team that had a tough night while giving up six goals.
Miller, the Rangers’ No. 22-overall pick in 2018 who was still playing at Wisconsin last season before signing with the club in March, joined the team for its summer camp but was not eligible to play in the bubble because his contract did not begin until this season. Still, he opened eyes there and has continued to do the same in this camp.
“I’m sure that gave him a lot of confidence coming into training camp this year,” Quinn said. “We were disappointed we weren’t able to bring him with us [to the bubble], but right from the get-go when he got here last year, you could tell this guy’s got a lot of things that you like. Obviously we drafted him high and we thought very highly of him when we took him. He certainly hasn’t disappointed, that’s for sure.”
Quinn was also encouraged with the rest of the “white” team’s performance in the scrimmage, particularly with the defensive corps that included Lindgren and Fox and Matthew Robertson and Darren Raddysh, in addition to Miller and Smith.
“I thought just white did a really good job staying on top of them. I thought the white ‘D’ as a corps were really good,” Quinn said. “Obviously a lot of blue guys had off nights. You don’t lose a game like that 6-1 and have a bunch of guys on your roster have good nights.”
The Rangers’ top line — with Brett Howden filling in for Mika Zibanejad, alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich — was responsible for four goals while Filip Chytil, Phillip Di Giuseppe and Ryan Strome also scored.
With the expedited preseason and no preseason games, nights like Thursday take on an added emphasis — especially for players like Miller in their chase to make the team.
“I thought there was a good pace to it,” Quinn said. “I liked the fact that I felt we were on top of people.”