BOSTON — In a trend that dates back to the 2013 playoffs, when the Bruins suffer injuries to their defensive corps, there’s always another capable player waiting in the wings.
Former University of Vermont Catamount Kevan Miller was called up from Providence on Wednesday and through just two games with the big club, he’s made the most of the opportunities he’s been given. In the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon, the 26-year old stay-at-home defenseman had 20 shifts, including some time on the penalty kill — a sure sign that coach Claude Julien likes what he sees.
Captain Zdeno Chara, too, has noticed the ease with which Miller has fit into the Bruins’ defensive schemes, saying, “I’ve been impressed with him since he got here. And that’s not just right now, but when he got called up in training camp.
“He’s just a really solid defenseman to have,” Chara said, though he had to add that he’s “not surprised” at Miller’s solid play through his first two NHL games.
Miller was called up from Providence to replace the injured Dennis Seidenberg, who left Tuesday’s game against the Rangers early in the first with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Miller doesn’t have the flashy game of Torey Krug (1A, 17:53 TOI) or maybe even the footspeed of Matt Bartkowski (1A, 16:25 TOI), but he’s done exactly what Boston has needed him to do with Seidenberg on the mend — play solid defense.
Miller was even on the day, with two shots on net through 14:27 time on ice — not exactly the numbers of a world-beater, but his steady play is more impressive considering he hasn’t even spent a full week with the team.
The ability to plug in AHL players at the highest level and not only hope for, but expect, success is a rare thing in the NHL. Miller may be the latest example of the strength of the Bruins’ farm system, but it wasn’t too long ago that fans were questioning whether young defensemen like Krug, Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton could handle the pressures of elite opposition.
“[The young defensemen] are really playing well,” Chara said. “They know what the system is, how we expect them to play. It’s nice to see we have a new generation of players coming and filling the roles.”
Hamilton in particular has grown as a defensive defenseman this season. He’s spent most of his time paired with Chara on the top D-line, which means he’s been seeing the best forwards the league has to offer.
“It’s an adjustment,” Chara said of Hamilton’s focus on defensive awareness. “You have to really think defense first all the time. When you’re facing top lines, it’s very dangerous to think any other way, but so far he’s doing a good job.”
It’s not clear when Seidenberg could return to the ice, but Adam McQuaid, who has been sidelined since the Bruins’ Nov. 9 matchup against the Maple Leafs, was a full participant in Thursday’s practice for the first time since leaving the lineup. With all four young defensemen performing well, the Bruins’ blueline is crowded with players not only up to the task, but with very high ceilings as well.
As McQuaid nears his return, Julien will have some tough decisions on his hands — but any coach will say that having too many good defensemen is a better situation than not having enough.
Photo via Twitter/@JonahBloch