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NHL Draft

2017 Draft: Matt Miller driven to succeed

Center travels two hours each day to perfect game for Victory Honda in Michigan

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Center Matt Miller is as dedicated to succeed on the ice as any other United States-born hockey player. The only difference is he has the mileage to prove it.

Miller travels more than two hours each day from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Canton, Michigan, in order to perfect his game for the Victory Honda under-18 team in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League. He's the only player on the 20-man roster who doesn't reside in the Detroit area. He's driven by his father to practices and weekend games.

"I have to leave right when I get home from school (3 p.m.), jump right in the car and dad drives to make our practices," said Miller, who attends Leo Jr/Sr High School in Leo, Indiana. "For games I'll normally leave about three hours early, depending on which rink we need to get to in Michigan."

Miller grew up listening to legendary radio broadcaster and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Bob Chase, who called games for the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL for 63 seasons. Chase died Nov. 24.

"We listened to him all the time," Miller said. "We met him many times in person and he was great; I absolutely loved his energy during his broadcasting. He had so much passion for it and was awesome to listen to. I know hockey fans in Fort Wayne will really miss him because he was one of the best."

Miller began his hockey career when he was 8 years old with the Fort Wayne youth hockey program, but moved to Victory Honda's under-15 team three years ago.

"It was a decision I made when I was 15," Miller said. "When I first told my parents they weren't too happy about it. But they are very committed and I'm very thankful."

Victory Honda coach Brian Burke (no relation to Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke) said he's glad Miller is so committed to the program.

"He's a kid who walked into a tryout three years ago and just kept getting better, literally shift by shift," Burke said. "Matt and his family are 100-percent committed. He's a special player and I think we provide a little different opportunity than perhaps he can find locally in Indiana."

Miller (6-foot-2, 181 pounds), who earned a C rating on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list, has eight goals and 17 points in 17 games this season. He also played for Team Howe at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 22.

"[Miller] is our No. 1 center," Burke said. "He plays every situation, power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5; he's good on faceoffs and is actually getting better. He's kind of rounded out his game. Matt took a big step two years ago, going from AA hockey in Fort Wayne to playing for Victory Honda and it all happened pretty quickly for him."

Miller will attend Michigan State University in 2018-19. He was selected by Dubuque in the ninth round of the 2015 United States Hockey League draft, and his rights were traded to Sioux City on July 21. He will play for Sioux City for five games. from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8, 2017, when the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League goes on winter break.

Burke said he can sense Miller's determination to get better in everything he does. His drive reminds him a lot of one of his former players at Victory Honda, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole, who had 15 goals and 40 points in 60 games for the Victory Honda U-18 team in 2004-05. He was selected in the first round (No. 18) of the 2007 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues. He was traded to the Penguins on March 2, 2015.

"Matt and Ian are both very driven, they want to play in the NHL," Burke said. "You can see it; it's almost as if they're not going to be denied.

"The Tier 1 Elite Hockey League is a great development league because of its competitiveness. There are so many one-goal hockey games and I think the depth on the rosters within the league forces kids to play the right way. It's a tough league."

Miller can play center or right wing but said he prefers being in the middle. He currently centers Joshua Jagger (12 goals, 21 points) and Andrew Nedeljkovic (seven goals, 19 points), the brother of Carolina Hurricanes goalie prospect Alex Nedeljkovic.

"If there's one NHL player out there I enjoy watching, it's Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)," Miller said. "He's a great skater and can push the pace. It's important that I keep improving each level."

Central Scouting's David Gregory said the Larkin comparison is a fair one.

"Larkin has so much quickness with his feet, but Matt's stride is a little longer so you don't see it as much," he said. "Miller has some very good playmaking ability and good IQ, which is similar to Larkin so they are comparable in that way."

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