After helping lead the Checkers’ unlikely run to the postseason last year, Andrew Miller is now the first to be brought back into the organizational fold.
Upon joining the Checkers full-time at the start of the 2016-17 campaign, Miller was already an established scorer in the AHL, lighting it up during his three pro seasons with the Oklahoma City Barons and Bakersfield Condors. But things got off to a slow start in Charlotte for Miller, as he totaled just nine points in his first 21 contests before sustaining an injury that sidelined him for over a month.
But as he recovered from his ailment and returned to the ice, something changed.
“I hadn’t been fully healthy in about 15 or 16 months,” said Miller. “Once I got back from my injury around late January I was finally back to my normal self.”
The shift in the 28-year-old’s game was immediately noticeable, as Miller established himself as a force night in and night out, his positive play snowballing as he built momentum.
“Confidence is key in all aspects of life and hockey,” said Miller. “When you’re doing well it’s easier to get up and have a lot of energy out there. I’ve always believed that if I stuck with the plan and played my game and kept making the plays I need to, the points would come.”
Sure enough, those points came. Miller netted 32 points in the final 34 games of the regular season, tied for the fifth-highest total in the AHL over that period of time. He also became a key cog in a rejuvenated Checkers’ offense, registering the third-best plus/minus rating in the AHL over that same stretch of time and finishing third on the team in scoring overall.
With that sensational run still fresh on everyone’s mind, the Hurricanes made an early move to bring the talented forward back for another year. He joins a growing stable of dynamic offensive players in the Carolina system, including two with whom he enjoyed most of his success last season: Valentin Zykov and Lucas Wallmark.
“My linemates made me look good a lot of times,” said Miller. “We all want to make plays and we want the puck. Z does a great job of making the small plays and getting to the front of the net. Wally and I have good chemistry and we both think the game pretty much the same way. Z compliments us perfectly because he’s hard-working and strong.”
Whether Miller, who logged 15 games during his tenure in the Edmonton Oilers system, plays in the NHL or AHL next season remains to be seen, but his agreeing to terms at least locks in part of his plan.
Now the focus moves to keeping his game in top shape.
“I can still work on all aspects,” said Miller. “But right now I’m going to hit the gym for a bit and then hit the ice and see where that takes me.”