by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Education always was a priority for forward Drew Miller.
During the past couple summers, he’s been taking classes at Michigan State so that he can eventually earn his degree in human resources. That pursuit was understandably sidetracked when Miller left school after his junior season in 2005-06 to begin his pro career.
"It’s the way I’ve always been raised. You get your degree and go on from there," Miller said. "I think it’s an important thing to do. I don’t want my kids to say, ‘You didn’t get your degree.’ I’m not rushing it. I’ll get it done eventually."
The most important thing that Miller learned this offseason is that you never know when another lesson is about to club you over the head.
Take the day earlier this month when Miller, 25, was leaving a skating session and saw he had a couple messages from Anaheim. Hmmm. That’s interesting, he thought. When he checked in, he got word that the organization was officially his former home, courtesy of a trade to Tampa Bay. The move ended a three-year career in the system that included 53 games with the Ducks (plus 16 playoff games), and 163 AHL games with Portland and Iowa.
"It definitely caught me off-guard. I think I finished pretty strong there," Miller said. "It’s a weird feeling. But you digest it all, let it sink in, realize it’s going to be a good move. I was kind of hoping to stick (in Anaheim). That’s not the way it went. It’s a new path."
At least Miller veers off with some momentum behind him. His 38 points (23-15) for Iowa last season was a pro high, and the Ducks thought his all-round game was trustworthy enough to play him in 13 postseason contests in the spring.
Miller isn’t clear yet on how Tampa Bay has him slotted, but having a lot to pick up on adds to the appeal of his challenge.
"It’s definitely an adjustment. You have to learn new people’s names. They haven’t really said too much, except that they are happy to have me, be prepared to come in and fight for a spot," Miller said. "I know they have a newer coaching staff there. I get a new slate there. I’ve learned through my experiences through pro hockey you have to roll with the punches a little bit. I feel like this is one that will be good for me."
Doell thrown to Wolves
A little flattery has brought forward Kevin Doell a long ways since the end of last season.
In April, Doell was vacationing in Rome after playing a year in Sweden. One day he checked his messages and saw he had a voicemail from Kevin Cheveldayoff, then the GM of the Wolves.
Cheveldayoff and Doell had a long history together because Doell played in Chicago from 2003-08. Doell wasn’t sure where he was planning on playing in 2009-10, but another season overseas was a strong option.
That changed when Doell checked in with Cheveldayoff and found out that the Wolves were very interested in getting him back. Without even shopping around for other North American offers, Doell re-upped with Chicago.
"Knowing that somebody wants you right away makes a big difference," said Doell, 30. "Traveling around Europe after the season, you don’t expect something to happen that quick."
In Wolves-land, missing the playoffs creates that sort of urgency.
Doell’s first go-around with Chicago concluded with a Calder Cup celebration in 2007-08. The checking liner went 16-17 during the regular season and added 4 goals and 5 assists in the playoffs. Last year, with Doell gone, Chicago sat out the postseason.
Coincidence? Only if you believe that a slick racecar can cross the finish line first while missing some important nuts and bolts.
"There were a lot of changes in the organization. That’s obviously difficult," Doell said. "We had a lot of different things going on two years ago, where everyone played their role. Maybe last year, that’s what they were missing."
With long-time GM Cheveldayoff moving on to the Blackhawks, Doell slides into the once-improbable role as the latest face of the storied organization. Although he’s far from one of its all-time glamour players, the responsibility is a good fit.
He’s one of the few players to rise from the ECHL to the Wolves to the Thrashers, and he starts the season as the active leader on the franchise’s games played list at 279. A busy season with the Wolves this year could push him into the top six all-time in that category.
"I’m definitely honored to be able to stay in one organization so long," Doell said. "I’ve come full circle now, going to Europe, coming back here to give it another shot and hopefully win another championship."
York, Nolan together again
Mike York doesn’t think Ted Nolan had anything to do with cutting short the first chapter of their hockey relationship in 2006-07.
All York cares about now is the role Nolan played in reuniting the two for 2009-10.
With York’s employment options looking scarce, Nolan, VP of hockey operations for the Rochester Amerks, recently called York’s agent with the offer of an AHL deal. York snapped it up quicker than a wrist shot.
The chance to play for pay in North America was the primary appeal to York, 31. But so was the opportunity to work in the same organization as Nolan. Nolan was the head coach of the Islanders in 2006-07, and York played 32 games there. New York traded York to Philadelphia during that season, a deal York assumes was made because he was on the verge of free agency.
"He’s a great guy. I got along with him really well," York said. "He’s definitely approachable. He’s definitely a person I’m looking forward to playing under."
York’s appreciation is understandable in light of his 180-degree career turn in 12 short months. Last year at this time, he had precisely three AHL and 578 NHL games notched on his stick. Columbus gave him a two-way deal and despite playing through a ruptured tendon in his right knee all year, he rose to the challenge by leading Syracuse in scoring (11-47), but got just one game with the Blue Jackets.
This summer, the free agent couldn’t even get a whiff of a two-way deal and is heartened by the modest opportunity of going to training camp with Florida.
"It is (disappointing), but I get to play hockey. And it’s over in North America," York said. "It’s just the way it is. I’m not an ego guy. I’m pretty conservative. Everyone wants to play in the NHL. Realistically, that’s not in the cards for me. A lot of teams are going with the younger guys, which is no problem."