The New York Rangers have assembled a very talented, young roster, highlighted by a former Norris Trophy winner (Adam Fox), a defending Vezina Trophy winner (Igor Shesterkin), a recent first overall pick (Alexis Lafreniere) and a recent second overall draft pick (Kappo Kakko). But though all of those players are critical to the Blueshirts’ future, another player on the roster might in fact be their most important. 22-year-old rearguard K’Andre Miller was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s been entrenched as a top-four blueliner in the Rangers’ lineup since he arrived during the 2020-21 season.
At 6’4″ and 216 pounds, Miller boasts the size to be a dominant presence in the defensive zone, and he consistently used his long reach to disrupt opponents’ plays throughout the Rangers’ run to the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. Here are some illustrative highlights to enjoy…
While it’s true that Fox won a Norris, it was primarily due to his exception offensive skills. But when it’s time to protect a slim lead in the final minute of a game, it’s a good bet that Rangers coach Gerard Gallant would choose Miller (and his defense partner, captain Jacob Trouba) to close things out. Miller’s physical play and defensive acumen seemed to grow by leaps and bounds as the playoffs progressed, such that Lightning coach Jon Cooper sought him out in the handshake line after his two-time Cup champion Lightning eliminated the Rangers.
“You’re a hell of a player.”
– Lightning HC Jon Cooper to K’Andre Miller
— Rangers Videos (@SNYRangers) June 20, 2022
What’s really exciting about Miller is that while he is already a stalwart in his own end, he’s also got fantastic offensive potential. Take a look at this end-to-end goal he scored against the Capitals last season…
It’s been a very long time since the Rangers had a blueliner capable of both scoring 50 points in a season while also serving as a dominant physical presence; you’d probably need to go all the way back to Brad Park in the early 1970s. Sure, Brian Leetch had a terrific hip check, and Ryan McDonough was a terrific leader and defensive rearguard, but you’d need to combine them to come close to what Miller is capable of. The closest comparables for Miller in recent memory are Victor Hedman and the retired Chris Pronger, big left-shooting defensemen capable of huge offensive production while also being dominant defensive presences.
The latest trend in the NHL is for teams to put four forwards on the power play; with Fox on the Rangers, this could mean that Miller’s opportunities to play with the man advantage would be limited. Maybe in the short term, that’ll work, but it’s more likely that a rash of shorthanded goals will end the trend, and a power play point manned by Fox and Miller could easily remain amongst the NHL’s best for the next decade, especially if Lafreniere, Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov finally emerge as top-six forwards.
Miller will be due for a contract extension next offseason, and the Rangers are likely hoping to sign him to a bridge deal to carry them through his arbitration-eligible years. Such a deal – right now – looks like it’ll cost around $4-$5 million per year. However, if Miller takes the leap forward that I’m expecting in 2022-23, that bill could rise to $6 million/year or higher, making the Rangers’ cap management that much more challenging. Of course, such a leap forward would also likely mean progress for the Rangers overall. If that means raising the Cup in June 2023, any fiscal challenges presented will be quite welcome, as the Blueshirts are already more than halfway (28 years) to the 54 years they’d waited before finally winning the Cup in 1994.