When the Dallas Stars decided to get seventh defenseman Joel Hanley into a game on Nov. 17 against the Florida Panthers, Colin Miller was the odd man out.
The newcomer had been given a chance to play some big minutes early this season and responded well. As it has been throughout the year, Miller was scratched in order to get Hanley some time, rather than anything he had done poorly on the ice.
But that didn’t stop him from coming back and playing his best hockey of the season.
In the eight games since the scratch, the Sault Ste. Marie native has tallied five assists and racked up a plus-7 rating.
That offensive potential is exactly what the Stars had in mind when they added him on the first day of free agency last summer.
Miller was coming off a down year on a bad Buffalo team but previously recorded a career-high 41 points in 2017-18 and racked up 70 points over two seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights.
"He has a bomb of a shot," Stars assistant GM Scott White said in the summer. "He can shoot the puck, he can move it and he can skate, and we think the value of the right shot was important."
If Miller can continue to produce, it gives Dallas a more dangerous group on the blue line. For most of the year, only Heiskanen has added offense from the backend with three goals and 29 points. The other five (excluding Miller) have combined for 25 points total. With the recent burst, Miller now has one goal and seven points.
“Nope, not really,” Miller said when asked if he had changed anything in his game. “Things started to bounce a little more, getting some points. It normally comes in waves. Nice, hopefully, it keeps going.”
Miller spent a majority of the early season on the Stars top pairing alongside Miro Heiskanen. That gave Dallas a righty-lefty combo on each pair and put Heiskanen back to his natural left side. Since that duo was split up, Miller has played with Hanley and Ryan Suter.
While the media and fans make a big stink over the different defense pairings and lines, players don’t seem to mind. Other than getting used to the handedness of the guy you are skating with, it really comes down to playing your game within the team’s systems.
Well, that is the case for most players that are not named Heiskanen. Things change a bit when you play with a Norris candidate, and it is possible that we see those two back together on Tuesday against Toronto.
“Obviously, Miro is such a good player, he breaks the puck out on his own and makes things look really easy,” Miller said. “But it’s pretty much the same, just getting used to some tendencies from one guy to another.”
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“Just getting more used to the system, the rules that we have, breaking the puck out, stuff like that. Just everybody getting on the same page.”
Pete DeBoer’s approach to managing his lines and pairings has been obvious from the start. He likes to roll all groups, doesn’t try too much to find matchups, and believes that each should bring the same style of play every time they touch the ice.
That approach has led to a fairly even distribution of ice time and production from up and down the lineup. It’s a big reason why Dallas is on top of the Central Division and picking up points in nearly every game.