The Rangers may have blown a 3-1 lead and had to settle for one point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins on Friday night, but it was a game filled with moments that confirmed the franchise’s future is on an upward trajectory.
The Rangers’ three goal scorers were ages 22 (Adam Fox), 21 (Filip Chytil) and 19 (Kaapo Kakko). Meanwhile, rookie K’Andre Miller, who turned 21 on Thursday, assumed a veteran defenseman’s workload — and flourished.
Miller’s NHL career is four games old, but there is an equanimity about him that has quickly earned the trust of head coach David Quinn.
Back on the team’s top defensive pairing with Jacob Trouba on Friday night, Miller logged a career-high 21:17 of ice time. He recorded his first NHL point, assisting on Kakko’s second-period tally that lifted the Rangers ahead 3-1. Oh, and five hits, two shots, one takeaway and a blocked shot.
“Obviously it’s a starter,” Miller said of his first point after the loss. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life. You can’t really put it into words, all your hard work as a kid growing up, watching the NHL, watching all these guys and then finally getting to go out and play with them, playing against them. It really means a lot. It was a good experience and happy I got one.”
For a young player who made the immediate jump to the NHL after two NCAA seasons, a learning curve was expected, which he definitely experienced in the Rangers’ season-opening flop against the Islanders. But it seems like the fast pace of the NHL has slowed down for Miller with every shift he’s taken.
“I wouldn’t say easier, I would just say the game is coming more natural,” he said. “Guys are usually in the right position, so it’s making my game a lot easier. During breakouts, neutral zone, whatever the case may be, guys are always prepared and always open and I always seem to have an outlet.
“The guys are making it really easy on me, and obviously working with Troubs, I’m kind of having that older mentor that’s been through the game, that’s logged a lot of minutes, lots of games in the NHL. It’s helped me a ton in these last four games.”
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Miller’s start to his NHL career is the defensive matchups he’s been entrusted with.
In the second game against the Isles, Miller was primarily deployed against their third line of heavyweight Ross Johnston, soft-handed Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kieffer Bellows. Against the Devils, he was on the ice for 6:57 against Miles Wood, who has recorded a point in each of the past three games for New Jersey.
On Friday, Miller matched up against Sidney Crosby for 7:48 and Evgeni Malkin for 6:14.
“I think just going up against some of [our] best guys in practice has prepared me to go up against some of these other top lines in the NHL,” Miller said. “Obviously, there’s good lines on every team. Just coming in prepared and knowing it’s going to battle each game, is kind of what I’ve been trying to focus on and getting better each game.”
Miller may have commanded attention when he was ineligible during the pre-playoffs training camp over the summer, but he proved to be a no-brainer to make the official roster despite an abbreviated camp earlier this month. Now, he’s already playing his way into a bigger role with heftier responsibilities.
“Four games under my belt,” he said, “just trying to be as consistent as I can be and help the team in whatever way I can.”