by Kinsey Janke || for NHL.com
Colin Miller hasn’t yet finished his second season with the Manchester Monarchs, but he’s already written himself into the American Hockey League history books.
During the league’s All-Star Classic in Utica, N.Y., the 22-year-old defenseman ripped home a 105.5 mile per hour shot during the AHL All-Star Skills Competition, the hardest shot in the event’s 20-year history.
“I had never done anything like that before, so I was really kind of going into the whole thing blind and just trying to really not embarrass myself too much,” Miller recalled. “I was happy when I hit the net, and had a really good time at the entire event.”
After being passed up in the 2011 NHL Draft, Miller was selected by the Los Angeles Kings 151st overall in 2012 and returned him to the Ontario Hockey League for what would be his final campaign with his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2012-13.
That season was explosive for Miller, seeing him net 20 goals and 55 points in 55 games. He also earned the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, given to the OHL team captain who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice.
“He sees the ice really well, he makes good plays, [and] he’s a good passer,” said Monarchs head coach Mike Stothers. “You can’t help but notice how well he skates. He’s very efficient at getting around the ice. He’s kind of like a hovercraft. We thought we knew how quick he was, but we didn’t realize until the All-Star Game when he did the fastest skater event. That was amazing.”
Miller completed his lap in at 13.805 seconds, becoming just the second AHL player ever to win both the fastest skater and hardest shot events. The performance helped lead the Stothers-coached Eastern Conference All-Stars to a 15-11 skills competition victory.
Now a month from the conclusion of the AHL’s regular season, Miller has racked up 16 goals and 43 points in 56 games, and his nine power-play goals are tops on a Monarchs team that leads the AHL in power-play efficiency.
Stothers is in his first season as Manchester’s head coach, and though a coaching change can often throw off a player’s established routine, Miller and his teammates have thrived under Stothers’ guidance as the Monarchs currently own an AHL-best 84 points (38-15-6-2).
“[Stothers] has been great for our team,” Miller said. “He’s good at letting us know if we’re not doing something right; he’s very good. I have a lot of respect for him and I’ve liked him a lot this year.”
The blueliner was called upon to carry much of the load while in the OHL, and Stothers recognizes that the surrounding core of players in Manchester this year has been immensely helpful in letting Miller develop into the complete player the Kings eventually need him to be.
“I think the Kings’ system of the team as opposed to the individuals has helped out,” Stothers said. “He’s another year older, more mature, and I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable with the league. There’s an awful lot of upside to Colin’s game, and I think right now, we’re just scratching the surface with him. I think there’s a real potential to be a dominating player in the NHL.”
The relationship between the Kings and Monarchs has been an integral part of the organization’s success, with future Stanley Cup winners like Jonathan Quick, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli all developing in Manchester.
If this season is any indication, Colin Miller looks to keep that door between the two teams wide open.
“I think I had that big transition my first year, and then this year I’ve been a lot more confident with the puck and a lot more comfortable in situations that I maybe wasn’t so comfortable with last year,” Miller said.
That comfort with the level of hockey the AHL provides has shone through in Miller’s game this year, his 43 points almost tripling his offensive output from the 2013-14 season. Among all AHL defensemen, he is second in points, goals (16), and power-play goals (9), and is fourth in power-play points (20). He has posted 11 multiple-point games, including three in the month of November.
Miller has been able to pair defensively with NHL veteran Jeff Schultz for the majority of the 2014-15 season, and though their styles of play differ, both Stothers and Miller agree the two feed well off of each other on the ice. The balancing of each other’s games that the two defensemen are able to handle each night has been an added bonus to Miller’s development.
“When you’re comfortable and confident in your pairing and partners, it makes a world of difference. That’s the beauty of the American Hockey League. Before you go up to the NHL, you have to learn your craft here,” Stothers said. “It’s a process, and it takes some time. Some guys find that comfort level like Millsy has, and they just take off. I think that’s where his natural abilities kind of separate him from maybe some of the other players around the league.”
Defensemen by nature usually need a little more time to develop, a little more time to round out their game and evolve into responsible two-way players. For Miller, making those tiny adjustments, whether in practice or between shifts of a game, is all part of the process.
“You’re obviously trying to get better in every area, and improve on things that maybe you didn’t like the game before,” he said. “I think all areas I’m trying to grow, and every day just get better.”