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2017-18 Player Review: Colin Miller proves himself on Golden Knights’ third pairing

It wasn’t always pretty for the 25-year-old, but Colin Miller proved to be a valuable asset for the Golden Knights both in the regular season and playoffs.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

In a campaign not unlike that of numerous other Golden Knights players, defenseman Colin Miller played the entire 2017-18 season with a massive chip on his shoulder. After being left exposed by the Boston Bruins ahead of last summer’s expansion draft, the 25-year-old blueliner had a career year in his first season with Vegas while cementing a long-term role with the NHL’s youngest franchise, and it appears he may be due for an even larger role this coming season.

Season in review

After a solid 2016-17 campaign with the Bruins, Miller was expected to take the next step and play a significant role on Vegas’ blue line last summer. However, there may not have been many who expected Miller to make as big an impact as he did last season.

In 82 games, the 25-year-old defender posted 10 goals and 41 points from the blue line in what was his first full season as an NHL regular. After logging impressive possession metrics in his first two years in the NHL, Miller went the extra mile in 2017-18, ranking eighth out of all NHL defensemen (minimum 300 minutes of ice time) with a downright superb 55.63 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 — not quite as impressive as his 59.93 CF% at 5-on-5 from the 2016-17 season, but admirable nevertheless.

While Miller’s ability to drive play is undeniable, however, he did develop a reputation as somewhat of a liability in the defensive zone. In particular, Miller took heavy criticism for his play in the Stanley Cup Final, where he occasionally got lost in coverage in some of the series’ crucial moments. But though his defensive play wasn’t always consistent, the Golden Knights typically did a great job of keeping pucks away from the net throughout the season while he was on the ice.

As displayed in the charts above, opposing teams had a much more difficult time producing quality scoring chances when Miller was in action as opposed to when he was on the bench. The majority of enemy shots were fired from low-danger areas while the slot and netfront areas were often heavily protected.

However, this may be more a result of Miller’s usage than defensive prowess. Miller led the entire Golden Knights roster last season with 486 offensive zone starts (60.98 percent), which, in other words, means that when he was on the ice, opposing teams typically had trouble generating offense because they rarely had the puck.

In essence, Miller is Vegas’ poster boy of the “a strong defense is a strong offense” adage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Standout moment

Miller has no shortage of highlight-reel plays from the 2017-18 season, but there’s one in particular that immediately sticks out. And it’s pretty obvious.

Miller’s goal in Game 1 against the Capitals, regardless of the series’ final outcome, is easily one of the most pivotal moments of the Golden Knights’ inaugural season. It was Miller doing what he does. Stationed near the far half-boards, Miller received a bank pass from Erik Haula. He then backskated toward the point before unleashing an absolute mammoth of a shot that beat Braden Holtby cleanly to give Vegas the early 1-0 lead.

And not only was this goal exciting to watch, but it also went down in history as Vegas’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final. Not too shabby.

KOI composite grade: B+

Miller was graded very highly by the KOI staff. Dalton gave Miller the highest grade (A-) while the lowest grade was given by Mike and myself (B). Shepard and Jillian both gave Miller a B+ grade, which, considering his play-driving ability and power play upside, is certainly a respectable grade for the Sault Ste. Marie native. With more consistent play in his own end, Miller very well could have received an even higher grade, but a B+ seems about right.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Miller is going to be a very important figure on the Vegas blue line, especially to start the season. With Nate Schmidt suspended, it’s possible that Miller could see well over 20 minutes per game — an increase over his average of 19:21 from last season. And with Shea Theodore now signed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either Miller or Theodore playing alongside Brayden McNabb on Vegas’ first defensive pairing (though Vegas may feel more comfortable playing Theodore with Deryk Engelland, as the duo spent a large portion of last season together).

Even when Schmidt returns to the lineup, though, Miller will continue to see a large amount of offensive zone starts and receive heavy minutes on the power play. Aside from Theodore, Miller may be Vegas’ most gifted puck-moving defender, and the Golden Knights clearly see that as well. Miller was awarded a four-year contract worth $3.875 annually in July, and the Knights seem rightfully confident moving forward with him taking on a top-four defensive role.

Statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.