BostonBruins.com - Kevan Miller entered 2014-15 ready to tackle his first full NHL season.
After climbing the ranks through a four-year college career at Vermont, signing with the Black and Gold as a free agent and biding his time working hard in Providence for two seasons, Miller had earned his shot in 2013-14 when Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg faced injury trouble.
He earned a new two-year deal and played 47 games with Boston that season. After seeing his first NHL postseason action in 2014, the hard-nosed defenseman was primed for a full 82-game season at the NHL level.
But as so often happens, circumstances didn't pan out as Miller - and the team - would have liked.
Less than two weeks into the season, Miller dislocated his right shoulder (Oct. 18 in Buffalo) and was sidelined for a month.
"Obviously a little bit frustrating with the injuries and what not," Miller assessed at the end of the season, when the Bruins addressed reporters for a final time before heading their various ways for the summer. "And as a whole, as a team, not what we were looking for from the beginning."
"So I guess frustrating would be the best way to put it."
That frustration at the start spread to the end for Miller, too, when he re-injured his shoulder towards the end of February and had to undergo season-ending surgery.
"You want to help the guys as much as you can, and I wasn't able to do that on the ice," said the defenseman.
He wound up with just 41 games in 2014-15, recording two goals and five assists of seven points and a plus-20 rating, which still served as tops on the team. He would have provided a steady, physical presence for a Bruins' team that lacked their identity for much of the season.
Miller admitted to having to be more cognizant of his shoulder when he initially returned from his early-season injury, slightly altering his game as a result - but he remained efficient, and tough to play against.
When his shoulder popped back out in February during a game against the Calgary Flames, Miller knew that surgery would be coming sooner rather than later. He underwent successful surgery towards the end of February.
Speaking in April on the team's final day of media availability, Miller was well into his rehab, and ahead of schedule. By now, he's about three months in.
In 2015-16, he'll enter the second year of a two-year deal (with an annual cap hit of $800,000). The blueliner's focusing on bouncing back from his frustrating, injury-marred season.
Miller's strength has always been an attribute. He trains hard, and doesn't like taking time off. The injury forced him to alter that.
When BostonBruins.com visited the Southern California native last summer in Los Angeles to check in during his offseason, Miller was hard at work mastering intense weight routines (and making a run for Zdeno Chara in the pull-ups part of physical testing at training camp -- see: Behind The B). It came as no surprise.
There's no doubt that once his shoulder is fully recovered, he will be back to his usual grind for the rest of the offseason and ready to rejoin his teammates on the ice.
So, what's his goal for September?
"Be stronger than I was this year," Miller said.
Any player who battles injuries is not only tested physically, but mentally as well. Miller could look to fellow defenseman McQuaid for guidance - he has unfortunately had to deal with many injuries in recent years. Missing significant time away from the game, and teammates, and what feels normal, is not easy.
But bouncing back can build character.
"Not the year you want to have when you come in…it was just kind of an up and down year, for sure," said Miller. "But it's something that I think will make me better in the long run."