BOSTON - In a playoff atmosphere that featured a heavy, physical brand of hockey, rookie defenseman Kevan Miller didn’t feel at all out of place in his NHL debut. The 26-year-old former University of Vermont standout finished with 17:42 of ice time and was a plus-1 for the Bruins in a 3-2 shootout loss to the solid St. Louis Blues at TD Garden.
Miller clearly had the confidence of the Boston coaching staff.
Sure, it was a little bit of a bummer because it was a losing effort, but Miller was satisfied with the way his first NHL experience went. It got off to a strange start given a weird pause at the beginning of the game so the Zamboni could fix the ice in the corner, but after that it was all good.
He threw his body around in the defensive zone, discouraged attackers with his size and strength and showed a little more skating ability and ease with the puck than perhaps was expected out of him.
“Right away there was a pause in the beginning there, and it took me a little bit to get going,” said Miller, who had his parents, brother, uncle and girlfriend all in attendance to watch his debut. “But I felt pretty comfortable through all three periods.
“Tonight, I think pucks were bouncing a little bit my way," he said. "I’m not here to score too many goals, just get the puck down deep, do my job, when I can provide some offense, do that as well.”
Perhaps it was his performance in training camp when he was the last defenseman cut, or maybe it was the way he played no-nonsense physical defense without any big mistakes with the puck on Thursday night. Either way, it was telling when Miller was still getting his number called for shifts in the third period and overtime when the game was on the line.
“Kevan Miller played extremely well. He’s a defensive defenseman who makes good strong plays; he did that tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “He was strong, I really liked his game. I thought he was a poised player out there for his first real NHL game.”
In essence, Miller gave the Bruins the same kind of game that Adam McQuaid does when he’s healthy and 100 percent able to contribute. The rugged blueliner started the game matched with Torey Krug in McQuaid’s spot, but eventually settled into a pairing with Matt Bartkowski while Krug and Johnny Boychuk seemed to also pair off together.
It might be a quick stay for Miller if McQuaid is able to answer the bell against Carolina on Saturday, but either way he leaves the B’s with a first impression that will likely earn him more chances with Boston in the future.