The Draft Analyst: Scouting K’Andre Miller versus Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Wisconsin Badgers split their recent weekend series with the host Notre Dame Fighting Irish and defenseman K’Andre Miller played a prominent role in both games. Although he was held off the scoresheet on Saturday after a two-assist effort the night prior, Miller once again proved that his contributions go well beyond goals and assists. Below is a recap of last weekend’s performance.

Friday (Wisconsin 6, Notre Dame 4)

For all the talk about the highlight-reel goal manufactured by Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield in the second period of Wisconsin’s 6-4 comeback win on Friday night, the play never materializes had it not been for Miller. He not only used his long stick to chip the puck away from an oncoming Notre Dame attacker near the Badger line, but in one motion gloved it down and banked a lead pass to spring Turcotte, who then fed Caufield for the goal that tied the score at 2. Plays like that don’t happen by accident, especially when executed by a first-round draft pick. Still, Miller assumed a fair amount of risk by leaving his zone early. Although an opposing 2-on-1 may have materialized had he failed, the cluster of Badgers lingering nearby made the gamble all the more negotiable. Additionally, Miller had the presence of mind to jump into the attack and trail the play without hesitation.



In terms of special teams, Miller was used sparingly on Wisconsin’s second power-play unit. He did have several chances for shots at the net, including one from the high slot with an open lane. Miller has a heavy shot and it’s generally accurate, but he tries to be too fine rather than release quickly. Miller drew a simple primary assist in the third period on a power-play goal by Max Zimmer that gave the Badgers a 5-3 lead. Although he and Flyers’ prospect Wyatt Kalnyuk seem to share the role of top-pairing anchor for any key or late-close situations, neither defenseman throughout the game stayed on the bench for long in between shifts. In fact, Miller was used every other shift during the third period after Ty Emberson was given a game misconduct for boarding.

Not only did Miller play most of the critical penalty kill with the Badgers clinging to a 5-4 lead, but he also had to manage freshman partner Mike Vorlicky and bail him out of several high-wire moments. As Friday’s game progressed, however, Vorlicky’s poise and confidence with the puck grew; partly because Miller unselfishly fed him passes and deferred to him during breakouts if pressure overloaded towards his side.

Miller continued to place himself in a position to attack open ice. He sensed openings before they developed, which is the mark of a cerebral two-way defenseman regardless of age. Of course, it helps that Miller has such a long, powerful stride that enables him to accelerate to top speed and hit those gaps with force. But the point stands — Miller keeps his foot on the gas and his mobility poses a significant threat to opponents.


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Saturday, Jan. 25 (Notre Dame 5, Wisconsin 2)

Miller (Charles Wenzelberg)

The Badgers put up a good fight against a Fighting Irish squad that was looking to avenge the previous night’s loss. This affair was more physical and chippy than Friday, and Miller was involved in a handful of post-whistle scrums. Despite the outcome, Miller continued the trend of serving as his team’s safety net during periods of intense pressure. He delivered timely, accurate passes while on the move or static in his own end.

Miller’s hands — soft to receive passes and quick to stickhandle through traffic — remained a constant. As mentioned before, he loves to be up in the play and skating with a bunch of freshman forwards and a first-year defense partner seemed to increase his desire to control the breakout. Miller was far from timid and never treated the puck like a ticking grenade when Notre Dame intensified their forecheck and physicality as the game tightened up. He was on the ice for the bulk of Wisconsin’s defensive-zone draws and anchored the top penalty-killing unit. Miller was not on the ice for any of Notre Dame’s three power-play goals.

A lack of discipline played a critical role in the Badgers’ defeat, and Miller’s interference penalty in the third period proved to be both untimely and costly. Michael Graham scored on the ensuing power play to give Notre Dame a 4-2 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the final frame. Miller was later handed a 10-minute misconduct for arguing a call made against Dylan Holloway.

Collectively, the Badgers seemed to unravel when things didn’t go their way. Frustration and poor body language were visible at the bench, and although these occurrences can be common for a young team that loses a tough battle without much help from the officiating, head coach Tony Granato likely uses Saturday as a major teaching point.

Summary

It should no longer be a question of if Miller will play for the Rangers, but when.

It is more than reasonable to think that Miller is developing into everything the Rangers had hoped for when they drafted him 22st overall. Although his current rate of 0.58 points per game is slightly lower than last year’s 0.85 average, the 6-foot-5, 211-pound Miller remains a critical piece to Wisconsin’s young offense by cleaning up in his own end and quickly transitioning the other way.

There are several superlatives that can describe Miller’s overall play during the weekend series but the obvious ones are consistency and dependability. He provides his coach with a high effort level from shift to shift; one that intensifies if necessary but never dips below an acceptable degree of performance. Simply put, Miller is a battler who finds a way to equally distribute his responsibilities between defense and offense and does so with a high success rate.

Several factors remain before we can determine if Miller will ever become a No. 1 defenseman for the Rangers in the mold of a Ryan McDonagh — multiple premier two-way defense prospects in the system will dictate those terms as much as Miller’s individual development. If a hypothetical situation existed where the organization were thin on blueliners and it were only Miller who distinguished himself, then it would make sense to earmark him as a potential star with cornerstone upside.

Still, despite the presence of a competitive peer group, plus playing for a struggling college squad in the early stages of a rebuild, Miller continues to distinguish himself as a poised puck mover capable of defending his end and anchoring a top-four pairing.