BOSTON -- Bruins coach Claude Julien made it a point recently to describe Kevan Miller as someone who is playing more like a seasoned veteran rather than a first-year defenseman in the NHL.
When the Bruins needed reinforcements from Providence due to injuries on Boston’s blue line earlier this season, Miller was called up and quickly fit in. Veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid has missed a total of 22 games this season with a quadriceps injury, and Miller has seamlessly added a similar style of strength and force.
McQuaid has suffered a few setbacks in his rehab, but since Miller is doing the job well, Boston is able to allow the veteran proper time to heal.
Like McQuaid, Miller fits perfectly in Boston. McQuaid is the type of guy who would help an elderly person cross the street on his way to the Garden, and a few hours later he’s pummeling an opponent into submission.
That’s what Miller did Monday night when he dropped the gloves with the Canadiens’ Travis Moen.
Early in the first period, there was a delayed penalty on Miller after he cross-checked the Canadiens' Dale Weise, who went crashing into the corner boards at 4:50. Moen came to his teammate's aid and asked Miller to drop the gloves. Boston's blueliner obliged and quickly connected with a strong right. Miller also took a few punches before landing a hard right that dropped Moen. As Miller went to the penalty box for his fourth fighting major this season, a bloodied Moen needed to be helped off the ice.
On the play, both Weise and Moen were injured and did not return for the remainder of the game.
Afterward, Miller showed genuine concern for his opponents.
“Yeah, I hope he’s all right -- both those guys,” Miller said. “To be honest with you about the hit, I felt bad about it. I just kind of bumped into [Weise]. I think he was a little off balance. I stood there just trying to make sure he was OK for a second and Moen asked if I wanted to go. I just hope they’re both OK.”
When Miller made his Bruins debut on Nov. 21 against the St. Louis Blues, he arrived in the NHL with no fear. He welcomes the physical play and is ready to drop the gloves when needed. Pound for pound, he’s one of the strongest players on the Bruins, and that includes captain Zdeno Chara. The pair of defensemen tied for the most pull-ups during training camp with 31.
Miller’s not just a big, tough guy. He’s smart with the puck and is not a liability on the ice. He works the corners well and removes any traffic in front to allow Boston’s goaltenders to see the puck clearly.
“Well, he just plays well all-around. He moves the puck well, he defends well, he’s strong, he’s winning his battles, he stands up for himself, and so not disappointed with him at all,” Julien said.
While the rest of the NHL is quickly learning that Miller can handle himself at this level, his teammates have known for a while how well he fits into Boston’s mentality. Overall, he has one goal and four assists for five points, including a plus-17 rating in 39 games for the Bruins this season.
Not bad for a kid who grew up playing hockey in Los Angeles.
“Yeah, he’s been really impressive,” said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. “Even in training camp I kind of noticed him a bit; how strong he was but also how committed he was to his defense and playing solid hockey. He has just been improving. He basically didn’t give many choices but to keep him. He didn’t leave any of the management a choice to go back down [to Providence]. So credit goes to him and he’s been great for us, really happy to have him.”