Sunday, March 2, 2014

Miller reunited with past Sabres teammates

Roy, Leopold played with new netminder 
in Buffalo; pleased with Blues' new pickup

Ryan Miller's reputation has been known around the NHL ranks for years. He back-stopped the Buffalo Sabres to 284 wins during an 11-year career along with 25 postseason wins.

But as Miller makes his Blues debut tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes after being acquired along with Steve Ott on Friday for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a prospect and picks, who better to describe what the Blues are getting than guys who have played with Miller in the past.

Just in case he comes to the Gateway City as an unknown commodity, which would be pretty rare to the hardcore hockey fan.

"I first met him in training camp when I was 18 and he was just a couple of years older than me," Blues center Derek Roy said of the 33-year-old Miller. "We became friends down in Rochester (Buffalo's American Hockey League affiliate).
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Derek Roy (9) and Ryan Miller are reunited once again in St. Louis after
playing together from 2003-2012 in Buffalo.

"I think what makes him so good is he battles real hard in practice. He doesn't want to let any shot go by, so I think that's good for a goalie. He challenges the shooters in practice and makes us try to make good shots. He pretty much stops everything. I think that translates into his game."

Defenseman Jordan Leopold, who is nursing a high ankle sprain suffered right before the Olympics against the Winnipeg Jets, played in front of Miller and knows him well. The two were teammates for three seasons (2010-13).

"Ryan is an extremely competitive individual and expects perfection out of himself," Leopold said. "I think he'll be a good added bonus for us. I played with him for three years and he's one of the best goalies in the world, if not the best. So to have that behind our 'D' core is a big added bonus.

"'Millsie' expects to be the best and he's going to work to be the best, whether it be staying out extra in practice and doing some things, that's what he's going to do. He knows what it takes to be great and he's had a great career up to this point. But of course there's that void that a lot of us have, going deep in playoffs and doing what we all dream of doing."

Miller, who is 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average with an impressive .923 save percentage playing for a last place Sabres team, will obviously have a boost coming to a new team for the first time with knowledge of not only former Sabres teammates Roy and Leopold but United States Olympic teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk. Oh, there's Ott, who was Buffalo's captain, also with the Blues.

"Yeah, it's good. You step into a situation where you know the boys, there's a little bit of a familiarity already and you can step into that," Miller said. "When you look at the lineup, I've played with Roy and Leopold, and I'm familiar with a lot of the other guys. It's nice that I can step in and already have a familiarity with those guys. The main thing is you want to come in and feel comfortable and get going."

Ott, who will also make his Blues debut tonight, wants Blues fans to know how good Miller really is.

"When you have a guy like Ryan Miller in net, I think you guys are going to be blown away by what you guys see," Ott said. "This guy is focused and his commitment to the game is by far one of the best I've ever seen.

"His desire on his focus ... he's so analytically thinking all the time and he puts so much effort into it, from the years he's kind of already established himself. His demeanor when he came in this year, even with all the speculation, he came in with that same demeanor and he's been phenomenal the whole year and rightfully so with what he puts into the game."

As far as fitting in? Miller's not worried.

"Yeah, it's going to be an interesting part to see," Miller said. "I think I'm a pretty easy going guy, get along with everybody. I'm not worried about that side of things. I just want to get comfortable so that I can play to my highest level. So it's just going to involve getting to know the guys, getting to know the calls on the ice, getting to know the systems better, the tendencies. Even in a tight system, there's going to be opportunities. There's going to be great players, playing in the NHL. I'm going to try and get my game to the point where I'm going to be familiar with everybody on the ice and everything that's going on. Obviously as a goaltender, you're prepared for the unlikely stuff. But my job right now is to just settle in and start being comfortable, so that I can compete at a high level."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows he's getting a guy who will compete at that highest level. Hitchcock even compares Miller among the game's best, perhaps top five in the NHL.

"Oh yeah. Yep. I think so," Hitchcock said. "He's one of the most competitive guys I've ever seen. That's always saying that we've had one of the best goals-against averages for three years (with Halak and Brian Elliott). So we just want that to continue. 
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Jordan Leopold (3) will get the chance to lend support to Ryan Miller
again in St. Louis.

"One of the obligations is for us to play well in front of him. I don't want us to think that we've got this goalie that we can just open up against and turn it loose and all of the sudden we're giving up as many odd-man rushes as we're getting. That's not how we're built."

Miller, who is 6-0-0 with a 1.15 GAA and .963 save percentage in six career games against the Coyotes, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, but the Blues hope the present ride will be a long one and then allow business to fall into place at the proper time. 

"(Miller's) a great goaltender, a great teammate, a great competitor," said Roy, who coincidentally was traded to Dallas in 2012 that netted the Sabres none other than Ott. "When you see how hard he's working, how hard he works at practice and games, it just makes you want to work hard too. You want to work hard for him. He's a great leader and we're going to need him down the line."

"I'm very happy with St. Louis," said Miller, whose cousin Kevin Miller was a member of the Blues from 1992-95 and brother Drew Miller plays for the Detroit Red Wings. "It's a team that I've kind of watched grow over the last few years. A hard team to play against. Good system, good players. It's exciting to be part of this team, part of a winning culture."

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