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Kevan Miller shows he can handle NHL in debut

11.21.13 at 11:40 pm ET
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It ended with Reilly Smith feeding Carl Soderberg in the slot and Soderberg burying his third goal of the season. The middle of the play featured Chris Kelly winning a one-on-one battle behind the net and working the puck to Smith. But the Bruins’€™ second goal Thursday night started with Kevan Miller keeping the puck in the zone and dumping it down low.

It was a simple play, it was the right play, and it was one of many instances of Miller doing exactly what the Bruins wanted him to do in his NHL debut. The 26-year-old defenseman never looked out of place in the 17:42 he played against the Blues. He broke up several rushes and didn’t let forwards get behind him. He battled in front of the net — and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he more than held his own there. He made quick plays to get the puck out of the zone, whether it was a short pass or a flip up the boards.

And, just as he did on that goal, he stood his ground in the offensive zone when the time was right, but never took himself out of the play.

“Kevan Miller played extremely well,” Claude Julien said. “He’s a defensive defenseman who makes good, strong plays. He did that tonight. He was strong, I really liked his game. I thought he was a poised player out there for his first real NHL game.”

Miller will never catch fans’ eyes the way Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski do, because offense simply isn’t a big part of his game. But he’s proven to be a dependable player at every level, and that’s afforded him an opportunity few people thought he’d have a few years ago.

Miller wasn’t drafted, and he didn’t garner a whole lot of interest once he wrapped up his senior season at the University of Vermont in 2011. But the Bruins saw enough to give him an amateur tryout contract. Then in six games in Providence at the end of the 2010-11 season, they saw enough to invite him to training camp. And then in training camp, they saw enough to sign him to an AHL contract.

Miller has continued to defy the odds in the two years since. In a system stacked with young, talented defensemen — almost all of whom were more highly-touted — Miller has just continued to get better and force himself into a bigger and bigger role.

He performed well enough in this year’s training camp to make the Bruins’ opening night roster as an eighth defenseman, but the B’s eventually decided it wasn’t going to do anyone any good to have him sit in the press box every night. They placed him on waivers, and fortunately no one claimed him, allowing the B’s to send him back to Providence.

“To be an eighth defenseman is all good and dandy,” Miller said. “But I just know the organization felt it was best for me to continue to play games and develop down there, and I completely agree with that. I think that’s helped me a long way.”

While it was a bit of a surprise to see Miller make the team out of camp, it was no surprise to see him be the guy the Bruins turned to with Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid injured. Besides being in the same sort of stay-at-home mold as those two, he was also the P-Bruin most ready to step in and contribute.

Whether or not Miller can stick with the Bruins remains to be seen. He showed on Thursday that he can play in the NHL, but he could once again find himself the victim of the numbers game once everyone’s healthy.

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