Name: K’Andre Miller
Team: USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL)
Stats: 22 GP, 4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points, 6 PIMs, +13 rating
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 23rd (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable player: Mattias Ekholm
Over the past decade or so the NHL has steadily become more and more accommodating to smaller players. At the same time, however, there simply still remain a lot of advantages to players blessed with natural size. Beyond helping guys be physically stronger and harder to push around than their peers, size also lends itself to longer reaches with sticks, longer skating strides, and so on.
Being really big isn’t a free pass to the NHL, of course. Players with size still need to be able to skate, to handle the puck, and to think about the game at a high level, among many other things.
It comes as no surprise, then, that players who possess a combination of size and actual hockey skills are highly sought after by teams.
In this same vein, don’t be surprised if defenseman K’Andre Miller is a prospect that goes a lot higher than everyone expects in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
A blueliner with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Miller is listed at 6’5” and 207 pounds according to the organization’s website. Having a huge frame is one thing, but Miller also fills it out well. Thick and strong, he almost looks like a linebacker, with a lot of muscle in both his upper and lower body. You almost feel bad seeing other players try to engage in physical battles against him because you know that their odds aren’t good.
What makes Miller so interesting, though, is that he’s not interested in just being a physical presence; he prefers to let his skill do the talking. He reserves the physical stuff for when the situation calls for it, as opposed to running around recklessly looking for big hits or spending too much time trying to intimidate opponents. He’s impossible to miss out on the ice because of his size, but it’s not until he gets the puck on his stick and starts carrying it that scouts raise their eyebrows.
Miller moves very well for such a big defenseman. Nobody will ever mistake him for Erik Karlsson out there, but he generates a lot of speed and power from his skating. His first couple of steps are good and he hits a nice top gear in open ice, enough to gain separation. With his size, he’s an intimidating presence when he really gets moving, barreling ahead like a freight train.
None of his skills with the puck are especially notable, but perhaps more importantly, none of them are really weaknesses either. He’s comfortable and capable at both sending and receiving passes, and he can handle and protect the puck reasonably well when under duress from forecheckers. His wrist shot and slap shot are both effective, albeit unspectacular. Miller doesn’t project as a prospect who will ever be a primary puck-mover or offensive contributor, but that’s okay because that’s not his game. He does enough in these areas to still chip in support and not hold himself back as a liability.
Miller also reviews well on the mental side of the game. There are still some shaky moments in the defensive zone — as there are for most defensemen his age — but he displays a good awareness of how the play is unfolding and has a focused, proactive work ethic. He’s calm when he needs to be, even in big moments during the game, but also possesses the ability to ramp up his intensity if the situation calls for it. There are no noticeable red flags about how he thinks the game, which is a great sign for his development. Having access to world-class coaches and trainers at the USNTDP has had an obvious benefit.
It also needs to be mentioned here that Miller grew up playing forward and is still a relatively recent convert to defense, which makes it more likely that he will be able to improve his play in the defensive zone as he gains more experience.
When you take a step back and look at Miller’s game as a whole, what you see is very, very impressive: a prospect who has natural physical advantages over other players, but one who also possesses real skill and no discernible weaknesses. It’s incredibly rare to find prospects with this kind of package.
This balance and diversity also shows up when taking a look at some of his underlying metrics, which are sparkling across the board:
One of the most important aspects of scouting is trying to determine how good prospects will hypothetically be in the NHL, not just how good they are right now. When it comes to Miller specifically, he just does so many things well that you can’t help but be intrigued by what the final product might look like. It’s not a stretch at all to envision him becoming a bonafide top-pairing defenseman in the NHL one day. The fact that he’s taking the longer development path of NCAA hockey, giving him more time to improve all facets of his game, only helps to bolster this possibility.
Miller’s name hasn’t come up very often (if at all) when discussing who the Dallas Stars might select with their 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, but maybe it’s time for that to change. Sure, Dallas added a phenomenal left-shot defenseman at last year’s draft in Miro Heiskanen, but Miller offers a different dynamic as a player. His physical game and potential as an elite NHL penalty killer are in short supply in the Stars’ prospect pool. If the more obvious and popular options are off the board by the 13th pick, Miller could be one heck of a consolation prize.