The pause in the NHL schedule has a ripple effect on every aspect of the sport, and it could mean the Rangers won’t get to glimpse defensive prospect K’Andre Miller in the pro game until he shows up at their next training camp — whenever that may be.
Miller, 20, decided over the weekend to leave Wisconsin after two years and sign his entry-level deal with the Blueshirts, who traded up to take him with the No. 22-overall pick in 2018. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound lefty-shot was set to go to AHL Hartford on an amateur tryout for the rest of this season before his three-year entry-level deal started next season.
But now the NHL is on hold due the coronavirus pandemic, with the optimistic hope of returning at some point. It’s the same for the AHL. If it’s possible the NHL does start again, it’s less likely the AHL, with far less financial incentive, will resume play.
That would mean Miller won’t get that short experience in the pro game — and the chance of a late-season call-up — until the 2020-21 season.
The organization thinks very highly of the affable Minnesotan, who did not have a great year for the disappointing Badgers, nor did he have a great World Junior Championship for Team USA. Even if it’s unfair, the lasting memory of that tournament for Miller is still his turnover and subsequent goal to presumptive No. 1 pick, Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere, in the group stage.
Yet his talent, athleticism, and ceiling for improvement are what make him such an attractive prospect for the Rangers. It also likely played a part in them being able to trade another lefty-shot, Brady Skjei, sending him and his $5.25 million salary-cap hit for the next four seasons to the Hurricanes on deadline day in exchange for a first-round pick.
If Miller turned pro at any point after his college season ended, he was going to get a good chance to make the Rangers in training camp. He likely would have had to blow the doors off in camp to make the opening-night roster and not start with the Wolf Pack. That still might be the case, whenever that camp commences.
But there are quite a few lefty-shot defensemen in the Rangers’ system, with Libor Hajek and Yegor Rykov already spending most of this season with Hartford, while Ryan Lindgren has proven to be a throwback defender ready for the spotlight at the NHL level. Matthew Robertson, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder who had been playing in juniors out at WHL Edmonton, is also thought of very highly. And veteran Marc Staal has one more year left on his deal.
So Miller is coming, it’s only a question of when and where. And that’s anyone’s guess.