BRIGHTON, Mass – The biggest audible cheers from the Boston Bruins players on ice during the first day of training camp was when defenseman Kevan Miller slid into the center of the stretching circle to lead a post-practice stretch with Patrice Bergeron.
There were vigorous stick taps and attaboys for the rugged, hard-nosed Miller, who signed a one-year deal with the Bruins at the opening of free agency despite not having played an NHL game in 21 months due to a series of knee injuries.
It was just one practice, of course, but it was a big deal for the 32-year-old Miller just as it was energizing and inspiring for all his teammates on the ice. If Miller can stay healthy and bring that intimidation factor that made him such a feared competitor for the Boston Bruins previously, it will be an important element needed for the B’s this season.
“It was awesome to see him. I almost got goosebumps watching him,” said Brad Marchand of his good Boston Bruins buddy, who he now co-owns the ‘March and Mill Co.’ clothing line with as well. “Not only did he come back, but the form that he’s come back in…he’s an absolute animal right now. Watching him out there, he hasn’t missed a beat. He looks incredible.
“So, to be in a position that he was in where he didn’t know which way it was going to go, there was a potential for [the injuries] to be career-ending. But he looks awesome. I was so happy for him. Not even just [on the first day] seeing him in action, but the way he’s been able to come back. The story he’s written for himself is very impressive. He looks awesome.”
It’s going to be interesting to see how Miller fits in if he’s healthy with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo firmly established on the right side, and Connor Clifton having proven he’s a bona fide third pairing defenseman. Bruce Cassidy didn’t rule out shifting Clifton to the left side if he’s needed there for physicality or a little offensive pop, and Miller moving to the left side, particularly for penalty-killing purposes, isn’t out of bounds either.
It certainly remains to be seen how much the 32-year-old Miller will be able to play in a compacted NHL schedule after missing the last two seasons. But there’s no doubting he’s going to be an integral part of the Bruins traditional toughness and snarl on the ice with a whole lot of that now gone with Zdeno Chara off to the Washington Capitals.
“We have Patrice. We have David Krejci. We have Tuukka [Rask]. We have [Kevan Miller] back, who looks great, back in the locker room and obviously you feel more like a leader when you’re with the group,” said Bruce Cassidy of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Miller. “Hopefully he takes care of his game first, but obviously recognizes that he did a good job of [leadership] for us.
“We’ve got Brad [Marchand] and some younger guys that can grow into role with Brandon Carlo and [David] Pastrnak when he’s back. And Charlie Coyle. And Craig Smith is a new guy, but he’s coming from an organization that obviously knows how to win. We have the guys in the locker room that can continue the tradition that [Zdeno Chara] kind of laid down.”
As Cassidy indicated, however, it’s all going to come down to Miller’s inspiring story continuing with good health and the ability to contribute on the ice. Miller may very well be in the sixth/seventh defenseman role that Chara turned down to sign with Washington this season and could potentially be a much better fit given his mental and physical willingness to take on a bit of a reserve role after career-threatening injuries.