It has been a rough couple of years for Kevan Miller. The Boston Bruins defenseman missed the entire 2019-20 season with a fractured kneecap, an injury that incurred setback after setback. The season prior, 2018-19, was when the kneecap injury initially occurred, causing Miller to miss the team’s regular season finale and all 24 postseason games as they reached Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final. It was his fourth different injury of the season, as he was able to play in just 39 games. In that limited action, Miller’s play reflected someone who was never quite at 100% and paled in comparison to his previous seasons.
Miller can only hope that 2020-21 will be different and that obviously starts with his health. He tells Ty Anderson of The Sports Hub that things are trending in the right direction:
I’m doing really well. Knee is feeling great, body is feeling great. Obviously, had a lot of time to get things in order. I’m making really good progress. I’ve been skating two to three times a week. I’ve been training. I’m really, super excited to have the opportunity to play again. If we were playing right now, I wouldn’t be cleared. But come puck-drop, I definitely will be. I have no doubt in my mind I will be 100 percent by then.
If there is any reason to believe Miller’s hopeful statement, it’s because the Bruins did. Boston rushed to re-sign Miller on the first day of unrestricted free agency, despite not having seen him play since April 2019. They also didn’t just hand him a minimum-salary “show me” deal, either. Miller signed a one-year deal with incentives, yes, but it includes a $1MM base salary and a $250K roster bonus for spending just one day on the active roster. That’s essentially $1.25MM guaranteed with a maximum of $2MM with bonuses.
Boston’s other moves this off-season also reflect some faith in Miller’s comeback. Even after losing Torey Krug, the Bruins have refrained from adding to their defense corps. To this point, they have not even re-signed Zdeno Chara. On paper, this leaves the Bruins very thin on the blue line. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk are returning regulars who will play top-four roles, but the other starting jobs appeared to be up for grabs between another oft-injured veteran in John Moore and promising but unproven prospects Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and Jakub Zboril. The team also has veteran Steven Kampfer, first-round prospect Urho Vaakanainen, and high profile college signing Jack Ahcan slated for AHL Providence. The group has some depth, but isn’t exactly loaded with the talent and experience that one would expect from a contender.
A healthy Miller would help with that. Although he has played almost exclusively in the NHL since 2013-14, Miller has just two seasons with 68+ games played, the most recent in 2017-18. Yet, in each of those seasons he averaged over 19 minutes of ice time per game, recorded nearly 20 points, logged over 150 hits and 100 blocked shots, played a key role on the penalty kill, and produced strong plus/minus and possession numbers. Granted, it has been a while since Miller has played a complete season, but his career numbers indicate that at full health he has the ceiling of a top-four shutdown defenseman, a possible Chara replacement even.
However, the caveat to any Miller excitement is that health is never guaranteed, even if he does begin the season at full strength. Miller’s resume reads like a list of all possible hockey injuries, and then some. He’s lost an even 200 regular season games to injury in his career, with ailments including the standard upper-body and lower-body injuries, concussions, and sickness but also multiple injuries to his shoulders and hands as well as a bruised larynx. Miller’s kneecap will be of most concern in the coming season, but the aggressive defenseman has shown a propensity for injury and cannot be trusted for a season-long role even if the knee holds up. A healthy Miller to begin the season is good news for the Bruins, but his presence and peak performance cannot be relied upon.