K’Andre Miller returned to the lineup for Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Bruins after a brief stint on the COVID-19 protocol list forced the rookie defenseman to miss one game.
The Rangers’ defense had looked to be in disarray without Miller in their 4-3 loss to the Flyers on Wednesday, with the bottom four struggling mightily. Considering Jacob Trouba (broken thumb) is out for four to six weeks, losing Miller for a prolonged period of time would have put an enormous amount of pressure on the Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren tandem, which received an exhausting amount of ice time in his absence Wednesday.
“He gives us such a presence back there, his ability to move pucks, his skating, his ability to defend,” head coach David Quinn said of the 21-year-old Miller, who replaced Anthony Bitetto in the lineup. “We’ve talked about it a lot since the season started, the adjustment he’s made to this level, as easy as he’s made it look and as quickly as he’s made it. It’s really surprising in a lot of ways. We certainly miss him when he’s not in the lineup.”
Skating next to Brendan Smith, Miller blocked four shots and registered one hit with one takeaway in 21:13 of ice time.
It’s easy to grow impatient when Alexis Lafreniere, the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, who was miraculously won by the Rangers in a lottery and was singled out as a franchise-altering player, has just two goals through his first 18 games of his career.
But Lafreniere continues to show growth and an insatiable desire to learn different aspects of the game, according Quinn, who has worked with young hockey players nearly his entire career in hockey.
The 19-year-old registered his first NHL assist Friday, sending a stellar cross-ice pass right to Ryan Strome for an open shot on the rush at 2:32 of the second period to put the Rangers up 2-0.
“He’s just always smiling, the game ends and he’s in there hooting and hollering,” Quinn said of Lafreniere. “He’s just getting more confident, more comfortable and you see the skill. I just love the fact that he’s paying attention and wants to learn about the other areas of the game and make him a complete player that he’s going to eventually be. I really like the direction he’s going.”
Now that Lafreniere is getting some time on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich in Artemi Panarin’s absence, he is beginning to learn how to create more opportunities for his teammates and move without the puck.
But the reality is exactly what Quinn has continued to point out: Lafreniere’s NHL career is just 18 games old.
Alexandar Georgiev made 31 saves, including 15 in the second period, to earn his second straight win and his third of the season. He extended his personal point streak to four games (2-0-2 in the four) to match his career high.