Professional Spotlight: Kevan Miller
Caryn Switaj, BostonBruins.com BostonBruins.com - With just over a minute let in regulation, and the Bruins up 3-2 over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Head Coach Claude Julien sent Captain Zdeno Chara to the ice.
With the Pens sending an extra attacker out, it was a shutdown mission. Joining him was defenseman Kevan Miller, playing in his third NHL game.
Johnny Boychuk was unavailable, as he was in the hallway shaking off a puck he had caught in the throat.
The next rugged, steady blueliner at Julien's disposal: Miller.
In his third season with the organization after four years at the University of Vermont, and time prior at Berkshire School, a prep school in Western Massachusetts, Miller has had plenty of seasoning before hitting the NHL ice.
"Well, he was solid," said Julien, of opting to send Miller out for the shift. "He was a pretty reliable defenseman for us all night. So he was out there at the end, and I thought he was a good player for us."
"Sometimes you talk about experience but you also talk about merit; and he deserved to be there with the circumstances we were under at that time."
Pittsburgh ended up tying the game with 0.3 on the clock with the extra attacker, before the Bruins earned the 4-3 win in overtime. But the confidence the B's bench boss had in the defenseman could not be understated.
Steady. Solid. Poised. The defenseman draws out all of those adjectives, and more, when you find someone talking about his play.
"He’s a defensive defenseman who makes good strong plays; he did that," said Julien, after Miller made his NHL debut against St. Louis on November 21. "He was strong, I really liked his game. I thought he was a poised player out there for his first real NHL game."
He had received his first-ever regular season recall the day prior, with his family soon en route to Boston from Los Angeles.
In Miller's first three games, Julien utilized him on the penalty kill, and didn't shy away from inserting him into any situation, for that matter. He averaged 21 shifts and around 17:00 in ice time.
"I’ve been impressed with him since he got here," said Chara. "And that’s not just right now when he got called up but even in training camp, playing really solid and strong on both ends of the ice; offensively and defensively."
"Preseason, exhibition games, he’s just really a solid defenseman to have so I’m not surprised and obviously I’m very happy that we have him."
Miller was the final cut from training camp, before the Bruins opening the 2013-14 season. He had traveled with the team to Vermont for their team-building trip. He fits in well.
"He's a strong, physical D-man. He's physically mature, he can handle guys, he can close well, so he played well," Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli had said of Miller's play in the preseason.
"Just trying to do my job and keep it simple," the soft-spoken Miller says, of his style.
No cliches here, though. The defenseman keeps it simple, and steady success comes as a result.
He's labeled as a "defensive defenseman," a stay-at-home type like Adam McQuaid, who also merges Boychuk's style and a piece of the shutdown presence Chara offers.
When Miller sees the pinch to keep the play progressing, he takes it - like he did to keep play alive and help set up a goal by Carl Soderberg in his NHL debut.
"I’m not going to do a bunch of spin-o-ramas on the blueline," the defenseman smiled. "But if I can get it deep and just try to keep the forwards going, I’ll take that."
"He didn’t really get beat in any areas of the game and sometimes, you need those kind of guys that will come in and just, not play it safe - because I thought he did a great job at supporting the attack and made some real good moves at the blueline carrying the puck across," said Julien, following Miller's first game.
"So he just played with a lot of confidence and that’s what, as a coach, you ask from those players that come up is just go out there and play; and that’s what he did."
Having played two seasons in Providence at the AHL level, Miller has been "seasoned" by the defensive system of P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy and Assistant Coach Kevin Dean.
It makes it a simple transition for players like Miller, who follows in the footsteps of Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug. They have all easily slotted in on the Bruins' blueline after time with Providence.
"They’re both great players – Krug and Bartkowski – I’ve learned a lot from both of them," said Miller. "I think Dino and Cassidy down there really help out a lot and obviously have done a great job with a number of guys. I felt pretty confident coming in because of them."
"They harp on us pretty good and try and get us ready and make sure we’re ready in the case the call comes."
Now that Miller has showcased the steadiness that defines his game, it's about maintaining that.
"Just keep it up," said Julien, of the message. "In his case, he’ll get in trouble if he starts complicating the game and that’s what we liked about him in training camp."
"I was always one of those guys that really respected Lidstrom and Detroit and everything just looked easy for him. Everything was simple, he never tried to be flashy and he was real effective for obviously his team."
"It’s not always about how much you do, it’s what you do in all those pressure situations and throughout the whole game."
"He just has to go out there and continue to play the same way; have that confidence to bring that game night in, night out. Because from what he did, now it becomes, ‘Can you become consistent at doing that?’ And if you are, then before you know it, you’ll be in the NHL - for good."
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