Every now and then I take a look at some players around the league that I believe are going under-appreciated in their current roles and by the teams they play for. Sometimes I look at a selection of players to fill a role, and other times I just see a player who deserves a better opportunity, like this piece on Jonathan Marchessault from this past spring.
The latter situation is where I find myself today once again as we take a look at Colin Miller, defenceman for the Boston Bruins. This isn't the first time we've taken a look at Miller, and @SuperNovs1 and our friends at the Oilers Rig have looked at him in the past as well. However, to date he's still in Boston and the timing has perhaps never been better for a smart GM to swoop in and grab a player that can probably help most teams around the league.
Who is Colin Miller?
Well, Miller is from Sault Ste. Marie and played his OHL career with the hometown Greyhounds. He was first eligible for the NHL draft in 2011 but wasn't selected despite being ranked in the top 150 prospects that year. The following September he attended camp with the Los Angeles Kings before going back to Sault Ste. Marie and was then picked by the Kings the following June in the 5th round of the 2012 draft (151st). He played two seasons with the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester, including in 2014/15 when he put up 19g-33a-52pts in 70 games which was second among all defencemen in the league. He was named to the AHL all-star game that year where he won both the fastest skater competition and set a record at the time in the hardest shot contest.
In June 2015 he was traded to Boston as part of the package in return for Milan Lucic along with Martin Jones and the #13 pick in the draft. Last season, his first with Boston, he played his first 42 NHL games while also seeing 20 games in the AHL and this season has been with the Bruins full-time.
How good is he?
In my opinion? Pretty damn good. Let's start with the positives, and for those of you who like numbers, there are quite a few of them...
Starting with last season, in 2015/16 he was among the top 35 blueliners in the entire NHL (min. 10 games played) in 5v5 points per 60 minutes of ice-time (5v5pts/60) at 1.02 pts/60 and the top 30 in goals/60 at 0.31. This is an early indication that Miller's ability to produce points appears able to translate to the NHL game. The Bruins posted positive shot attempt, shot and goal differentials when he was on the ice. In fact, the Bruins had higher shot and shot attempt percentages with Miller on the ice than any other Bruins defenceman last season (He ranked first in SF%RelTM and CF%RelTM among Bruins Dmen).
On special teams Miller is all about the powerplay and not really a consistent presence on the penalty kill. But boy did he show well on the powerplay. I'll offer the caveat of small sample size as Miller only spent a little under 60 minutes on the PP in 15/16, but he was 10th overall in the NHL among blueliners in points/60 minutes of powerplay ice time and 15th overall in the league in primary points/60, which is a good indicator that he was actively contributing to the offence.
Moving onto 2016/17, most of Miller's numbers have only continued to improve, with one major exception, which we'll get to shortly...
Thus far this season, looking at players who have appeared in at least 10 games, Miller ranks in the top five league-wide among blueliners in SF% (57.4%), CF% (56.1%) and leads all NHL Dmen in FF% (59.2%). Those numbers all remain very strong when compared relative to his teammates, which is saying something considering the strength of the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio this year. He also grades well above 50% on things like scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances. Here's a nice summary of Miller from the indispensible ownthepuck blog run by Domenic Galamani.
While we are on the subject of teammates, it's worth asking the question of whether Miller is just riding strong play by his teammates or if he is helping to drive the flow of play towards the offensive zone. One of the ways we determine this is by look at his impact on each individual teammate through a WOWY (or with and without you) analysis. Using the data from both 2015/16 and so far this season to increase the size of the sample, here is a visualization of the impact Miller has had on his teammates as it relates to possession (represented by CF%)
That's a lot of positive outcomes, which suggests Miller is having a positive impact on the game no matter who he's on the ice with.
So, what are the issues in his game?
Well first, I think it is fair to say that Miller is a bit of a high-event player compared to some of his teammates...meaning lots of chances at both ends of the ice. He rates out well overall for the league, but among the Bruins, his shot suppression numbers don't rank him in their top 4. Beyond that, his size is average 6'1", around 200 lbs, but offence and puck movement are the core of what he brings to the table.
He also isn't deployed in a top four role so it's not yet clear if he's capable of taking on additional responsibility defensively, or if he's best suited to a bottom-pair role with lots of powerplay time.
Why would Boston move him?
Ah, now here is the question.
For starters, the way they use him suggests they don't see what they have with Miller. He ranks 7th in 5v5 ice-time per game among Bruins blueliners (only 13:18/gm) and is only third in average TOI/gm on the powerplay. Needless to say, Claude Julien is not deploying him in a way that suggests they view him as indispensable.
Why would they be sour on him you might ask? Well, when teams sour on what many consider to be a good player, a great place to start looking is with PDO, which is a combination of team shooting % and save % and is frequently used to represent the degree of luck or randomness in the game. Generally, 100 represents the average and anything too high or low away from that would imply good luck (higher number) or bad luck (lower number) and given time, the percentages typically revert back towards the mean of 100. So, what is Colin Miller's PDO this season? 95.5...the lowest number among Bruins blueliners. The cause of that is almost entirely poor on-ice shooting percentages. With Miller on the ice so far this season, Boston has shot an abysmal 3.59%.
For the Bruins to have such difficulty actually putting the puck in the net despite frequently having more than 50% of the shots, shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances during Miller's ice-time is fairly unlucky and something that history dictates is unlikely to continue.
The other reason Boston may be willing to move Miller is that their blueline is getting healthy. Boston currently has Zdeno Chara, Torrey Krug, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, Brandon Carlo, Joe Morrow, John-Micheael Liles and Adam McQuaid all on the big club. They've had a couple of injuries, but are almost back to full health. Carlo is the only one exempt from waivers but the team seems intent on keeping him with the big club.
Someone is likely to become available and teams would be smart to put in a call about Colin Miller's availability.
What do you think Oiler fans? Edmonton sorely lacks a player with the offensive skill set that Miller possesses. Would he be of interest to Edmonton? Is his inexperience a turn off or would Peter Chiarelli be smart to buy low on a player with significant promise?