For all the struggles and strife of the Boston Bruins defense this year, the youth movement has started to show some bright spots.
One of the extra shiny ones is Colin Miller.
And he's not playing right now....Because of reasons.
The former Manchester Monarch and Calder Cup champion defenseman has a lot to be proud of this year in spite of the rocky start. Moving to a new organization can be a stressful transition, especially one that had it's biggest issues in the position he plays, and expected an immediate return from him, and was sometimes forced to play above his station. One only needs to look at the first couple games of the year to see how that went for him and the whole team.
Since that point, Colin Miller has become a very encouraging sign on a young, generally unknown blueline that has asked a lot of the players on entry level deals and bridge deals. His early success is also a testament to what exactly made him so valuable for Don Sweeney in the three part trade for Milan Lucic, and both fancy stats and the eye test seem to firmly be on his side.
What's made him so good? Why is he suddenly charging up the ranks like this?
Why does he look so goofy with a mustache?
Well, to answer the last question, it's because I chose an extremely unflattering image of him to head this article because it amused me.
To answer the first two, a lot of what Chiller has been able to accomplish over the past few games seems to stem from being an extremely bright player. Most of his blocks and d-zone exits come from a play that was executed just at the right time, and at just at the right place so that he could be in control of the puck, and it all came from a natural capacity to be aware of his surroundings at all times.
So many times he had been able to cut a pass down so that it could be turned into a transition effort. So many times he is correctly anticipating where the puck could be going in the opposite direction, and is able to defend accordingly. It's almost like he has a radar implanted in his skull pinpointing the puck at any given moment on a sheet of ice.
A specific example came during the most recent game against the New York Islanders, where an oncoming forward is ready to dump the puck behind Rask from the neutral zone on the near side. Colin responds by staying just ahead of the play, and just as the puck leaves the stick of the opposing player, he knocks the puck down for his defensive partner to swoop in and send back out the other way, effectively cancelling the opportunity for a zone entry. For a player who was touted primarily for his offensive contributions, Miller has quietly begun expanding his skillset to include an active and aggressive defensive edge that has served him extremely well.
Of course, it's not like we shouldn't also appreciate his offensive contributions.
Because we should. His shot is stone cold, and scarily accurate. Both goalies in his two goals this year had every idea where the shot was going, and it just kept going past them, completely fooling them at the last second. And if two goals don't seem like enough, then 8 assists on top of that should probably help you understand where I'm coming from here. Still not sold? Well then I'll let the NHL PR tweeter sweeten it for you.
MOST POINTS, ROOKIE DEFENSEMEN: Parayko (STL): 5-8—13 Miller (BOS): 2-8—10 Hutton (VAN): 0-8—8 Gostisbehere (PHI): 4-2—6 Nurse (EDM): 1-4—5— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 2, 2015
Yeah, that's something worth about a third of Looch, don'cha think?
And his skills don't just end at an individual level. He's been instrumental to making Dennis Seidenberg's return seem like the closest idea of a "Return to form" for him. Allow JohnDavis33 to explain as he did during a conversation about fancystats a few days ago. Stats are referenced from stats.hockeyanalysis.com:
...He had nearly 40% ozone starts with Chara, now it's reversed. Seidenberg's seems to be only bad so far when he's not with Chiller. With Trotman he was at a sub 40% CF%, and with McQuaid he was sub 20. Both were small sample sizes of course. Maybe he and Chiller just have some kind of sweet chemistry? Whatever it is, they're almost two standard deviations above the mean in terms of CF%, and they've given us the best 90 minutes of second pairing play we've had since Boychuk.
Once again, Colin Miller is making the hot mess that is Dennis Seidenberg's defensive play not only watchable, but good enough to the point where the pairing is finally making up for the loss of Johnny Boychuk. Seidenberg himself stated in a post-game comment that having Colin Miller on his pairing made things so much easier on him, and made it easy to be a defenseman.
And this is coming from a 34 year old who has been steadily and increasingly regressing defensively throughout the last three years, and has just come back from having a major spine surgery. And he's looking good because of a player who previously only had limited NHL experience.
Hercules had easier tasks to contend with. And he fought a lion. Lions are hard to fight.
What's most reassuring about all of Colin Miller's play so far is the timing: The next wave of halfway decent teams and western conference home-and-homes comes all throughout the month of December and January and only ramps up from there. When the majority of the points this team will either earn or squander will come in this three month expanse, this is where "Gut check" time actually means something. And so far? Colin Miller has looked good against it, and has only continued to look better with subsequent games. With some of the tougher games on the Bruins schedule starting to crowd together, now's never been a better time for the young defensemen in this squad to start building a consistent body of work to help propel a squad full of questions past their issues and emphasize their strengths.
And even if you don't specifically hear his name every third play leaving the Bruins zone, it's not a huge deal. A defenseman in a perfect world should either be praised for having a bomb shot from the point go in, a thundering hit to keep the play moving, a great play breakup, or admonished for whenever he did something bad, right? Quiet success is success all the same. And that's something the Bruins need.
Colin Miller is up to the task, and he is easily going to be one of the better defensemen on the roster if he's allowed to get out there and show his stuff.
But he can only do it when he's on the team.
You know what to do, Claude. Make it happen.