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UND hockey commit Mitchell Miller rolling in USHL

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UND hockey commit Mitchell Miller of the Tri-City Storm carries the puck during a United States Hockey League game this season. Photo by Eldon Holmes / Tri-City Storm

Just like it does every week, the United States Hockey League announced its players of the week Monday.

And just like it seems to be doing every week, the USHL named Mitchell Miller the defenseman of the week.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound UND commit has won the honor four times in the last six weeks, a sign of the tear he's been on during the second half of the season for the Tri-City Storm.

Miller started the season by tallying 11 points in the first 28 games (.39 points per game).

In the last 12 games, he has more than quadrupled that production, racking up 23 points (1.92 points per game). In the process, he's become a highly watched prospect who is eligible for June's NHL Draft in Montreal.

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Tri-City coach Anthony Noreen said Miller's game has taken off since he competed for Team USA in the World Junior A Challenge in December. Miller had six points in six games at that event.

"As I've seen happen so many times in this league, guys that go to that tournament and have success, they usually take off," Noreen said. "Before he left, he had one goal. It was the game before he left and it was an empty-netter. Since coming back, he's just elevated his game. It's a combination of confidence -- playing up there (at WJAC) with some of the best players in the world and having success there -- and buying into his own development, working at it and being engaged."

It was only about three or four years ago that Miller moved from forward to defense -- a move similar to the one that former UND standout Christian Wolanin made later in his junior career, too.
Like Wolanin, Miller's rise has been rapid.

He had four goals and 16 points in 48 games with Cedar Rapids last season. Now he's already at 33 points, trailing only Michigan commit Owen Power (37 points) among USHL defensemen.

"He's learned to really trust his skating and his reads," Noreen said. "He's doing a really good job defensively. Ethan Goldberg, our associate coach who works with our 'D,' has done a tremendous job with him. It's easy to lay out a plan for a guy. The tough part is getting him to buy in. He does the work. He loves the game. He shows up with a smile on his face every day. Whatever plan we put in front of him, he attacks it. That's what a pro does. He approaches it like a pro."

Noreen said Miller improved his conditioning levels over last summer. That has helped complement his skillset.

"The first thing you notice is his skating," Noreen said. "He might be faster with the puck on his stick than without it. He's able to create separation from defenders, join in the rush and be a real threat from the back end. He has elusiveness. He's able to use deception to create shooting lanes. Sometimes, it looks like he's out of room at the point, but he finds a way to create an opening.

"He's almost like a basketball player, who leaves a guy in the dust and almost breaks ankles with what he's able to do at the blue line."

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The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau named Miller the No. 48 North American skater available for this year's NHL Draft. Those rankings came out in early January, right before Miller went on his scoring run.

Since then, scouts have flocked to see him play.

"He's handled that really well, about as well as it could be handled," Noreen said. "He's the type of kid that makes you love coaching."

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UND hockey commit Mitchell Miller of the Tri-City Storm takes a shot in a United States Hockey League game this season. Photo by Eldon Holmes / Tri-City Storm

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UND hockey commit Mitchell Miller of the Tri-City Storm takes a shot in a United States Hockey League game this season. Photo by Eldon Holmes / Tri-City Storm

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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