K’Andre Miller has played a role beyond his NHL years since his first season with the Rangers in 2020-21.
It’s easy to forget that the 22-year-old defender is only in his third season in the league. Averaging about 20 minutes per game over two seasons in a top-four spot with shorthanded responsibilities isn’t always the norm for a player of Miller’s age and experience. But that’s all Miller knew.
Much of the conversation surrounding Rangers’ youth this season has been rooted in the need for certain players to improve and take on bigger roles. Miller’s role, however, should be the same. But the possibility that the 6-foot-4, 217-pounder continues on his upward trajectory can only benefit Rangers.
“I could compete with any of those guys,” Miller told The Post on Friday, citing the confidence he gained during Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals, in which he averaged nearly 25 minutes per game. “All those forwards, all those leading lines that [Jacob Trouba] and I were paired against. We had some good success against these guys and it was a fun experience overall.
Miller, who made great progress on both sides of the puck last season, returned home to Minnesota to train this offseason. After taking about two weeks off the ice, Miller trained with Ryan Lindgren and Brady Skjei, a former Ranger from Minnesota. Miller gained five pounds, he said, focusing on his conditioning this summer.
While he was happy with his play late last season and into the playoffs, Miller still described 2021-22 as “ups and downs.” He said he focused on using his huge progress to his advantage this offseason. His ability to go from start to finish as quickly and skillfully as possible — evident when he danced around MacKenzie Weegar in a scoring goal on Nov. 8 — is part of what makes Miller such a unique offensive force.
But a big part of Miller’s leap last season stemmed from the game being much slower than in his rookie season.
“That was probably the most important thing from first to second year, just the speed of the game,” he said. “Obviously in the first year you have a bunch of guys who are older and bigger and stronger than you. So I think it’s just a case of comparing yourself to them and putting yourself in that position and trying to get into that position. trying to do what you do that got you there.
As a result, Miller was also able to feel more comfortable jumping on the offensive play. His hope is to do more of that, he said, tapping into his attacking instincts. He’s already done enough to earn his trust as a top-four defender. Now Miller can continue to work to complete his game on the offensive side, which has already seen flashes of promise.
Miller’s entry-level three-year contract runs out at the end of this season, which will likely put cap-strapped Rangers in a tight spot if he has a major breakthrough year. Even a repeat of last season would give Miller significant leverage.
“He’s a bigger, stronger kid,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “We talked about [Alexis Lafreniere], [Filip Chytil] and these guys are young players. They played very well last year and you know, let’s take the next step. They are good young hockey players. What do you call the next step? A star? A star ? I do not know.
“But [Miller’s] had the chance to be one hell of a hockey player. I think you all saw that last year.
New York Post