It seems highly likely that, barring a change, Kevan Miller will crack the Boston Bruins’ opening night lineup.
Hard to believe, and that’s not even a knock on the defenseman. In fact, it’s an endorsement.
Miller hasn’t played since April 2019 due to a twice-broken kneecap that’s required lengthy rehab and was mired in setbacks. But he’s back on the ice now, and skating impressively by all accounts.
With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo occupying the first two spots on the right side of the defense, it’s basically Miller and Connor Clifton competing for the final spot (unless Bruce Cassidy decided he wanted to put a left-shot in that spot).
Through one week of the abbreviated camp, it’s Miller’s job.
“Kevan has the upper hand in terms of experience, that bite,” Cassidy said Friday afternoon over Zoom. “Obviously we’ve talked about (how) we lost that with (Zdeno Chara), so Kevan can give us some of that. We knew going in that he felt better, our medical team thought that he was farther ahead than where he’s been in the past in terms of recovery from that injury and should be up to speed when the season started, but he just needed to get out, get reps, get playing, get back into live hockey. So we’re real happy about his progression this week.
“It’s been three practices and two scrimmages, and he looks great. Obviously, his body is recovering well and handling it well, so that’s step one from him, and if he can do that then he has the upper hand on Clifton.
“Where we’re coming from is if Kevan’s healthy and able and giving us that bite and moving around the ice and defending well and killing penalties, then that’s a big plus for this lineup.”
Miller does bring an edge to the defense that no one else on Boston’s blue line has. It’ll be interesting to see if or how much he has to back down off that style of play given his injury history, but it can’t be that far if he’s getting this much positive attention in camp.
Another potential plus, which Cassidy later alluded to, is that Miller has experience playing alongside younger guys — he was a routine partner of Matt Grzelcyk early in his career. And while John Moore is in the running for the left side third pairing spot, so too could be Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen.
With two offseason defense departures, the blue line is a somewhat uncertain area for the Bruins. But getting Miller back to what he is — a useful third pairing defenseman — could ease a lot of pressure.