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Golden Knights thin on defense means more eyes on Colin Miller

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The young defenseman got paid this summer. He’ll be relied upon to be that No. 1 guy with Vegas thin on the blue line.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Here’s the official power rankings of important things that happened to Colin Miller this summer:

1) He signed a four-year contract worth an AAV of $3.875 million with the Vegas Golden Knights, and avoided arbitration.

2) This.

Insert jokes on affording a nice haircut after a solid payday here.

But what’s no laughing matter is how the Golden Knights view Miller in the realms of the franchise. The 25-year-old defenseman played all 82 games last season with Vegas, setting career-highs in goals (10) and assists (31) in 19:21 of ice time.

“I wanted to be here,” Miller said at the Golden Knights’ charity golf tournament on Tuesday at Bear’s Best Las Vegas. “I’m appreciative that they’re backing me.”

Miller was selected from the Boston Bruins in last summer’s expansion draft, bringing with him an offense-first mentality with a big shot. He was primarily on Vegas’ third defensive pairing last year rotating between Jon Merrill and Brad Hunt.

This season is shaping up to fill Miller’s plate with more responsibility and a bigger role on the side. Nate Schmidt is suspended the first 20 games of the regular season for violating the league’s performance substance policy, and restricted free agent Shea Theodore remains unsigned with the first day of training camp this Friday. That leaves Miller as the Golden Knights’ best available offensive defenseman heading into camp.

Miller is expected to start training camp on Vegas’ top defensive pairing, whether that be with Brayden McNabb or Deryk Engelland.

“I think every player wants to build on each season,” Miller said. “Every player wants to make sure they’re contributing to the team. I don’t think anything has changed on that front for me. Losing Nate is a big blow but we’re going to have to rally around and fill that void for sure.”

Replacing Schmidt is no easy task for the Golden Knights — those include being a shutdown defender at even strength and contributing on the power play. Miller led all Vegas defensemen with five power-play goals in the regular season, and all three of his Stanley Cup Playoff goals last season were on the man advantage — including the very first goal of the Stanley Cup Final.

For as much as plus-minus is laughed at, it’s important to note Miller had the worst rating of any regular Golden Knights defenseman at minus-4. Schmidt was a plus-16 in 76 games and Theodore was a plus-5 in 61 games (his first year as a full-time starter). Miller was also fifth among Vegas d-men in blocked shots with 64. He’s expected to get a minutes increase as a top defenseman. Those are areas he’ll need to improve on.

But the Golden Knights could be in much worse situations if they didn’t have Miller in the fold. Year two of being an everyday defenseman will be beneficial for Miller, but his evolution is crucial to how Vegas stays afloat for the first quarter of the season.

“I think it was a great last year on how things went down and how people established themselves,” Miller said. “So, it’s about building on that.”