WILMINGTON, Mass. – Apparently, Kevan Miller likes to walk around the Bruins dressing room without a shirt on.
That’s what Matt Bartkowski was good-naturedly needling him about as the media crowd circled around his locker to speak with him about the new two-year, $1.6 million contract extension that begins next season. Claude Julien also had his fun saying that he was have spent a lot of time “working on his beach body” while growing up as a hockey fan in Los Angeles.
“It’s not HockeyTown USA in California, but it’s getting there,” said Miller. “There are more and more [NHL] players coming out of California.”
But there’s also a great deal of respect for a 26-year-old rookie that tied Zdeno Chara for the most pull-ups in fitness testing at B’s camp, and has begun making his NHL game with hard hits such as the one he rocked Dustin Brown with in the closing minutes of the victory over the Kings on Monday. Miller has a goal and an assist in his first 16 NHL games, and has averaged a healthy 16:53 of ice time with a Bruins coaching staff that doesn’t hesitate to put him into pressure situations.
It might not be a coincidence the Bruins finalized the extension with Miller after watching him throw some heavy, jolting hits in a playoff-style game against the Kings. He looked like exactly what the Bruins want out of their defenseman while knocking the Kings captain all over the ice.
“He’s earned it. It’s pretty obvious that he’s come in here and played some pretty solid hockey, and he’s been rewarded for it,” said Julien. “There’s no doubt for a player it gives them that confidence and security that they’re looking for.
“But it’s still a two-way contract for this year, so he’s got to be careful.”
The B’s coach added the last part with a trademark smirk, but the opportunities he’s given Miller speak volumes about the confidence level in the young player.
Needless to say Miller was appreciative of the deal, and it culminates a long, non-traditional path as an undrafted stay-at-home defenseman that played three AHL seasons before getting his chance this year.
“It’s a great organization, and you want to be part of a winning team. I couldn’t ask for a better spot,” said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Miller. “Since November I don’t think I’ve come off my high horse and been able to reflect on things. This is definitely a dream come true.
“Everybody wants [a multi-year contract] so it was nice to get one, and it’s a real confidence-booster for me.”
The Miller contract leaves the Bruins with four right-shot defensemen in Miller, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton, and a real surplus for a Bruins team that will be looking to make a deal in the next couple of months. It remains to be seen how they’re going to address that, and whether the Miller deal is a precursor to some other move being made.
Still, it seems much more like a reward for a player in Miller that’s worked his way into an NHL spot in Boston with a good, punishing, physical brand of hockey, and a hunger that comes from defying the odds to get there.
"He's a beast. He's one of the strongest guys on the team. He likes to wheel around with no shirt on and show off his muscles, but he's really strong," Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said of Miller. "He's got that good skating position down low. He's really strong in those 1-on-1 battles."