“Simpler” And “Smarter” Will Be Keywords For LA Kings Defenseman Prospect Colin Miller in 2014-15

LA KINGS PROSPECT WATCH: Throughout the summer, Frozen Royalty will be taking a look at several of the Los Angeles Kings’ young prospects. In this installment, the focus is on 2012 fifth round pick, defenseman Colin Miller. An audio interview with Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake is also included.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Colin Miller, shown here playing for their AHL affiliate,
the Manchester Monarchs.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Blake Gumprecht
LOS ANGELES — In today’s National Hockey League, and especially for teams that stress defense, like the Los Angeles Kings, young players coming out of major junior hockey in Canada, or the collegiate ranks, are often rather deficient on the defensive side of the puck. After all, at lower levels, players get away with a lot more, in terms of taking shortcuts or playing a risky style.

But once these young players advance to the professional ranks, they often receive a rude awakening.

Although that may not apply to Colin Miller, who was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (151st overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, the 6-1, 201-pound offensive defenseman still has a lot to learn about playing on the defensive side of the puck.

“He came out of junior where [players] get away with a lot of stuff [on the ice],” said Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake, who also serves as general manager for the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. “He can push the pace, he can jump [into the play]—he could do a lot of things that he might not get away with at the pro level.”

Specifically, positioning was the sticking point.

“That hasn’t been a weakness of mine, but it’s something that I tried to focus on a lot this [past] year, taking care of my own zone first and then, moving forward from there—being very sound, positionally and all that,” said the first-year pro. “I went [over] that a lot with the development staff, and [now former head coach Mark Morris]. That was [something I had to learn] because the guys [in the AHL] are bigger and stronger. You’ve got to be really sharp [in the defensive zone], otherwise, you’re not going to play.”

“A lot of it was positioning—starting in the right spot,” added the 21-year-old native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who played in 65 regular season games with the Monarchs, scoring five goals and added twelve assists for 17 points, with a +5 plus/minus rating and 35 penalty minutes. “Everything builds from there. You don’t have to run all over the ice and get [further] out of position to make a play, or struggle to get back into position.”

Picking and choosing his spots, in terms of when to be aggressive and jump up into the play, and when to play it safe, is another aspect of Miller’s game that needs work.

“At the beginning of the year, I was trying to make plays, [but] I was trying to do too much,” he noted. “Later in the year, I started to settle down. You just have avoid the risky plays. I think that’s something I learned over the course of the season and got better at.”

“Sometimes, simplifying is better,” he added. “Making the simpler or easier play is better at the higher levels, for sure.”

Having three veteran blue liners in Manchester was a big plus for younger defensemen like Miller, in that regard.

“Surrounding him with those three veterans (Andrew Bodnarchuk, Andrew Campbell and Jeff Schultz), that was the one of the key things when we were putting that team together—having those three veterans where you can watch them on a day-to-day basis,” Blake explained. “Late in games, when there might be a chance to jump in and join the play, but you’ve got the lead, so you decide to play it a little bit safer and stay back. That’s one of those things Colin needed to understand—the timing of the game. Being paired with either Schultz or Bodnarchuk, he got to watch these guys first-hand and understand that part of the game.”

The strongest aspect of Miller’s game is his skating ability.

“Being able to skate the puck, get it out of the back end and move it up to the forwards—that’s my biggest strength,” he said. “I’m able to skate well. That helps me stay out of trouble. That’s one of the major things. If you’re able to skate, move the puck and make plays—that’s kind of the way the game is going for defensemen. You need more puck-moving defensemen. That’s a mold that I want to fit into.”

Young players in their first year of professional hockey also have to make the adjustment to the pros off the ice, and Miller was no exception.

“Dealing with a lot of free time was the biggest thing for me,” he noted. “You go to the rink, you have your hockey and that’s your main focus for the day, as opposed to junior, where you might have some work, or, if you’re coming out of college, you have your [class work]. But here, it’s all hockey. That’s something that was new.”

“It takes a little bit of time to adjust and get used to everything, but I was happy with how my season went,” he added. “Our team was really solid and there were some older players who showed me the ropes and helped me along with being a pro.”

Going forward, strength and defensive play are the aspects of the game that Miller is focusing on.

“Getting bigger and stronger is something I want to continue to work on—putting on a little more muscle,” said Miller. “The defensive side of the game is also something I really want to hone in on—make sure that’s it exceptional and that it becomes one of the strengths of my game and not a weakness.”

“He’s a good skater and he soaks a lot of things up,” said Blake. “This was [also] a good summer for him to get bigger and stronger—fill out to that frame. He’ll be very competitive for us.”

Blake stressed that they were pleased with Miller’s first year as a pro.

“He’s got a lot of upside,” Blake stressed. “He’s a guy who came into [rookie and training camps] and impressed a lot of guys, too. I don’t know if we knew that much about him, but he’s got a very competitive edge.”

“[He’s] s great skater and he loves to shoot,” Blake added. “He’s got to find the net a little bit more, [and] he’s got to understand his options when he gets the puck at the point, but, all in all, for a first-year pro, coming out of junior and having to play to play a pretty prominent role on that defensive corps—we were lucky we had some good veterans in Schultz, Bodnarchuk and Campbell to anchor that staff. Having three really good, solid veterans and then you add Miller and [first-year pro Derek] Forbort, we were pretty solid.”

“We’ve got some options with these guys and good tandems to pair them with. Both [Forbort] and Miller kind of play off each other. Hopefully, we’ll see those guys partnered up a little more this year.”

Watch and Learn

Like many of the Kings’ young prospects, Miller was recalled once the Monarchs were eliminated from the AHL playoffs, joining the Kings as a “Black Ace” for their post-season run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship.

Like most of his fellow prospects, Miller left the Kings after the second round against the Anaheim Ducks. But he saw enough during the first two playoff rounds to gain valuable insight.

“They had a great run, an amazing run,” Miller observed. “Just the way their system works and how every guy on the team bought into their system—it seemed like the could put any guy in there and it would work. They were so well connected, and it was so easy for them to break out of their zone, move the puck up the ice and, pretty much, do exactly what they wanted.”

“I was really impressed by their systems play and how solid they were in every area,” Miller added. “Positionally, the defensemen and forwards were always in the right spots. That was really impressive.”

As you might expect, Miller paid special attention to the defensemen.

“Every player watches other players to see if they do something that you might be able to do,” he said. “Their defensemen and their ability to move the puck up the ice—players like [Slava] Voynov and [Alec] Martinez—they’re so good at skating the puck and moving it up ice. That was something I really enjoyed watching.”

Raw Audio Interviews

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):

Rob Blake (2:14)

Frozen Royalty’s Colin Miller Coverage

Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Off-Season LA Kings Prospects Coverage

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