What an interesting season for K’Andre Miller. He absolutely shattered his career highs last season, putting up an impressive 9-34-43, more than doubling his prior career highs in assists and points, while setting a new one in goals. He was second to just Adam Fox in all three categories, and he did it almost entirely at even strength and with minimal powerplay time. He also did it while, for lack of a better phrase, carrying Jacob Trouba through his struggles and wrist injury.
Yet people were disappointed with his season, which seems odd. Even those that rely on stats like hits and blocked shots for defense –something I personally don’t do– were disappointed, despite Miller finishing third on the team in hits (162) and fourth in blocked shots (105). For some reason, his “defense” just simply wasn’t good enough.
Yet, here we are, looking at a player who is continuing to grow before our eyes. Individually (RAPM, right chart), he was pretty solid at limiting shot attempts against, but did struggle with some of the quality. As he continues to learn the defense position and gets more experience, that should change. When including team impacts (Player Card, left chart), he’s just overall solid with room for improvement at even strength defense. His shorthanded impacts are pretty good too.
There’s certainly opportunity for improvement with Miller. For starters, he had a rough end to his season. He, like many Rangers, seemed to just fall off a cliff to end the year and in the playoffs. As a 23 year old defenseman, this was hopefully a blip and not the norm. There’s enough evidence to suggest it’s just a blip.
External factors may have also had an impact. Miller was hamstrung by the lack of a zone exit strategy, eliminating a key strength to his game. The non-Fox Rangers were absolutely atrocious in exiting the zone with any consistency last season. This could have been due to a lack of a full plan there, or that each of his coaches have preferred a glass-and-out exit approach, which is essentially a turnover. We shall see how Peter Laviolette’s influence and much more structured system impacts Miller.
The other factor, and it’s something we harp on a lot here, is his spot in the lineup. No disrespect to Ryan Lindgren, but Miller is the best LD on the team. As we noted with Fox’s report card, he also plays better with Adam Fox (who doesn’t?). While that isn’t a surprise, something to note is that Lindgren and Trouba have more or less the same results paired together as they do apart. So why not try something new?
Miller would have received an A if he kept his play up from the beginning of the season. But it’s a full season, and his February and playoffs were a bit rough. Still, the concerns are way overblown over a bad month.