Injured Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller inching closer to a return

BOSTON, MA. – JANUARY 31: Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins falls over Nolan Patrick #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period of the NHL game at the TD Garden on January 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller is in the opening phase of a self-prescribed three-step rehabilitation process.

Miller has undergone four procedures since suffering a fractured knee cap in a game against the Minnesota Wild on April 4, 2019. Miller is 14 months removed from his unfortunate encounter with the boards at the Xcel Energy Center but is still a long way from getting back on the ice.

“I’m walking around and I’ve been walking around and walking is OK,” said Miller during a Zoom meeting on Wednesday from his home in Colorado.

“I’ve been able to get out and do some fun activities that I want to do that are very minimal on my knee. Normal walking’s OK and I’m going up and down stairs, that was a big issue for me for a long time.

“I’m tying my shoes normal again and that’s a good thing and I’m putting my jeans on the way I used to. There’s progress for sure but there is a long way to go. The gap is big but it’s getting smaller by the day and I’m hoping to close that gap and get back to normal.”

Tying one’s shoes is vastly different from lacing up a pair of blades and picking up a stick for some rough and tumble on the ice sheet.

Miller is hoping to be at or beyond Phase 2 by the time the NHL reconvenes in late July or early August at remote locations for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I’m hoping to get back to 100% whenever that may be and I can rejoin the team at some point and get back to playing hockey,” said Miller.

“There is no real timeline and I haven’t circled a date. Before I was circling dates and now, I’m not circling dates. I need to get to that next mark and everything is looking good and everything is moving in the right direction.

“I have to start strength training and get back to that and then I can look to where I’m at off the ice. I just want to focus on being healthy off the ice and once I do that, I can start to think about on-ice stuff.”

Miller, 32, is a rugged, stay-at-home defenseman who provided an important service to the Bruins’ back end before the injury. Since his last procedure in December 2019, Miller’s rehab has been a series of stops and starts with no clear direction on where the process is going.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy fielded questions about Miller’s status on a daily basis during the season. One day Cassidy would say that Miller was making progress toward getting back on the ice. Two days later Cassidy would announce that Miller had suffered a setback and his prognosis had tumbled back into the gray arena of uncertainty.

Miller missed out on last season’s postseason run to the Stanley Cup Final, that ended with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 at the TD Garden. The Bruins could have used Miller’s presence against the Blues’ physically intimidating style.

Miller watched as the Bruins regrouped to build the NHL’s best record before the league shut down on March 12 in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The months of downtime eliminated the urgency Miller was feeling as the Bruins moved on without him.

“It was kind of a blessing but I don’t want to say that and not be sensitive about what is going on because it is not good,” said Miller. “But for me personally, I wasn’t calling a doctor every day saying, ‘When can I do this, when can I do that?’

“It was more let’s just spend some time healing and making sure this is actually done correct. Time has slowed down a little bit and the good from it is there was no rush.”

While Miller is in Colorado focusing on his young family and rehabbing his knee, he has not isolated himself from the calls for social justice taking place in the streets of America.

Miller said he supports the military and first responders, but he was appalled by the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Miller supports the stance that the Bruins organization and some of his teammates have taken in support of the protesters.