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Maybe Later: K’Andre Miller

If you’ve been following this year’s draft profiles, you might have been noticing a slurry of defensemen and centers, because realistically that’s where the Leafs’ prospect pool is lacking. This post is no different, although this will be our first covering a more traditional defenseman in K’Andre Miller.

The Leafs’ needs shouldn’t be a consideration because we all know that Best Player Available (BPA) is the go-to strategy. Also, with a number of wingers leaving the system over the last couple years (Soshnikov, Leipsic, probably Komarov and Van Riemsdyk), and with the uncertainty that comes with goalie scouting (at least in the public sphere from amateurs such as myself), there isn’t really an area that can afford to go unaddressed.

With the above in mind, Miller is an interesting prospect that Leafs fans should keep an eye on. Currently the Leafs pick 25th overall, and I wouldn’t really recommend taking him there as there’s defensemen I’d much prefer. However, if they were to trade down, or if Miller were to fall to their 52nd overall pick, I think there’s a case to be made that Miller could make an impact in their system.

Who is K’Andre Miller?

Miller is a left-handed defenseman playing for the USA’s National Development U18 Team. The team is a development program set up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, featuring the best young players that the USA can bring in. For the unfamiliar, the U18 team competes in USHL and also sees some exhibition games against the NCAA. The competition is interesting; one might think an assembly of the best American draft-eligible prospects would dominate the USHL but the U18 team didn’t even make the playoffs this year.

PLAYER FACTS (from eliteprospects.com)
  • Date of Birth
    Jan 21, 2000
  • Age
    18
  • Place of Birth
    Hopkins, MN, USA
  • Nation
    USA
  • Position
    D
  • Height
    6’4″ / 194 cm
  • Weight
    205 lbs / 93 kg
  • Shoots
    L

He stands 6’4″ tall, so this is in contrast to some of the smaller defensemen who have been profiled already like Addison and Tychonick. He also apparently weighs 205 pounds if that matters to you. His birthday is in early January, so he’s not a late birthday.

Miller played for the U18 World Junior Championship for the USA, who lost in the finals to Finland’s team.

Where is he ranked?

The rankings for Miller, like many prospects past the top 20 ranked names, has widely varying positions in the ranks.

ISS Hockey Not Top 31
The Athletic – Pronman Not Top 31
Future Considerations 20
The Athletic – Wheeler Not Top 31
Canucks Army – Davis 37
Sportsnet – Cosentino 24
TSN – McKenzie Not Top 15
Dobber Prospects – Robinson 31
SportingNews – Kournianos 28
NHL CS – NA 23
McKeen’s Hockey 17
TSN – Button 56

To do like Olympics scores and eliminate the top & bottom ranks (Button low and Future Considerations high), we can find Miller going somewhere in the late first round or early second round.

What do the numbers say?

Player stats (from eliteprospects.com)

Clearly Miller hasn’t been an offensive superstar, but he did end up 4th in the U18 US development program (USDP) in defender scoring per game, scoring at a rate of a point every other game (0.5 pts/GP). For games in the USHL he scored 0.73 pts/GP, good for 6th in the league.

But Miller isn’t meant to be an offensive superstar, nor is the most important quality in a defender their ability to put up points. Check out these manually tracked stats from Mitch Brown that laud Miller:

Miller is, by a wide margin, the most balanced defender tracked in this project. Players like Ty Smith or Ryan Merkley excel over K’Andre Miller in certain areas, but none that I’ve seen are as balanced in their abilities, with no weaknesses in these numbers, like Miller is.

The importance of numbers like this is, quantification-wise, uncertain. But, theoretically, these are a very important description of a defenseman’s ability to contribute to the offense with shots and primary shot assists, as well as their ability to contribute to the transition game by moving the puck up the ice, or preventing the other team from doing so.

What are the scouts saying?

This is an excerpt from Steve Kournianos’ site The Draft Analyst, and his profile on Miller:

Watching Miller smother in one end and skate effortlessly in the other makes me think his learning curve is not steep at all — he plays a clean, composed game in his own zone and looks fantastic when he’s unbridled. Miller can be physically intimidating, and his strong lower half makes rubbing out forwards of any size look easy. One thing to consider is that this group of NTDP defensemen is deep with offensively-gifted puck movers, so it’s natural for a cerebral kid like Miller to focus on his defensive-zone play and act decisively with the puck only when the opportunity makes sense. This type of approach reduces haphazard tendencies to a bare minimum. Choosing your favorite draft-eligible defensemen from this year’s version of the under-18 NTDP is a lot like being asked to pick your favorite child, but don’t be surprised if a less-heralded kid like Miller has the best NHL career out of any from his defense corps.

Stealing from Canucks Army contributor Ryan Biech’s profile on Miller, K’Andre was a forward until switching to defence at age 15. Biech also had this to say about Miller:

He is a strong skater with great mobility for his size that he uses to be effective in the defensive zone by quickly closing gaps and then finishing his checks to get the puck separated from the carrier. Miller is able to also use that to carry the puck in the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. He isn’t the quickest accelerator but has really strong and powerful strides that give him a good top speed.

I also recommend watching/listening to this audio scouting report from Matt Levine:

Highlights

Why should the Leafs draft K’Andre Miller?

Truthfully, this is a tough question since we know that the Leafs have a ton of depth on the left hand of their defense. But the timeline with Miller will be lengthy, 3 years at University of Wisconsin will likely come before he makes the jump to the NHL. Perhaps judging the Leafs depth chart is the wrong way to go.

I don’t think it’d be appropriate to take Miller in the 1st round but if somehow he’s available at that 52nd overall pick, I would definitely pick him up (unless someone else like Merkley has also fallen down to that position).

The most likely scenario for the Leafs to land Miller would be in a similar fashion to how they landed Travis Dermott: trading down. We know that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is a fan of shrewd thinking, and trading down is one way to maximize your haul at the draft if you’ve got a late first round pick. If the Leafs moved down to the 35-40 range, with some later picks coming as well, Miller might be a good name to take there if he’s still around.

MLN Draft #Content

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  • lukewarmwater

    You have to like the size factor of being 6 foot 4 and already 205 lbs. and what is not to like about the fact that the kid can skate and is the antithesis of Jake the Snake in Gardiner in that he apparently loves to rub out murauding forwards who have audacity to come into his side of the defensive zone. It sounds like the kid has potential and another possibility is the leafs gaining a second round pick by wheeling and dealing.