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The Road to Recovery

Wings forward Drew Miller is excited to return to the lineup after missing most of the 2015-16 season

by Josh Berenter @JBerenter / Detroit Red Wings

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - After nine years in the NHL, Drew Miller had a completely different summer than any he's ever experienced as a hockey player.

The 32-year-old Red Wings forward suffered a horrific knee injury on Jan. 10, tearing his left ACL and meniscus, which required major reconstructive surgery and forced him to miss the last 40 games of the 2015-16 season.

"It was a totally different summer than I've ever had," Miller said. "I started (rehabbing) in January, so I didn't really take a break from then. But I think the approach that we took with our training staff and with my summer workout guys worked well for me, and I feel confident with my knee."

The injury was part of a frustrating stint for Miller, who hurt his knee in just his second game back after sitting out 14 games while recovering from a broken jaw suffered against the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 3. Before the jaw injury, Miller had been the Wings' iron man, playing 190 consecutive games.

Miller, though, didn't let the injury affect him mentally, and said he's using his comeback as motivation to prove himself as a valuable asset to his team.

"It's tough," Miller said. "Having jaw surgery and then coming back and you work 2-3 weeks really hard to get back in the lineup and then tear my knee. It was a tough season and definitely didn't go the way you wanted it to go. But it gives you that motivation. I got myself ready and worked hard this summer to be ready to go."

One positive that came from Miller's injury was that he was able to spend valuable time with his newborn daughter, Octavia, who he and his wife, Colleen, welcomed into the world on May 6.

"Taking that much time off from hockey is tough, but on the positive side, I had a little girl," Miller said. "She's almost five months old so I got to be home and be a part of that. So with the negatives, there's a big positive."

The former Michigan State University standout was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but because he's a tough, reliable, unselfish player who is inexpensive and excellent on the penalty kill, the Wings re-signed Miller to a one-year, $1.025 million contract on June 27 before he could hit the open market.

Coach Jeff Blashill said Miller is a crucial piece of the Red Wings' puzzle and he plays an important role that a lot of NHL players aren't willing to fulfill.

"From a defensive and penalty-killing standpoint it's real important," Blashill said. "He's one of those players who's able to play really well within the role he gets. He wants that role, where some guys aren't necessarily looking for that. He's a great defensive player, a great penalty-killer, so that should help our penalty kill."

Despite his valuable role, the looming questionability of the knee injury, as well as a logjam of depth at forward, Miller has come into Red Wings training camp this week knowing he'll have to earn his ice time this season.

"Every year you come to camp, that's the discussion," Miller said. "There's always competition. You're always fighting for minutes. I have to prove myself again and show that my knee is ready to go. I do feel I have a spot on this team and play a role that I can contribute, night in and night out."

Despite the lack of preseason expectations from media pundits, Miller said he's excited about the Red Wings' lineup for the Farewell Season at The Joe and looks forward to proving doubters wrong.

"I think we have very skilled players and we have a well-balanced lineup," he said. "I think that maybe on paper, it might not be as high profile as it's been in the past, but I would never count us out. I'm excited about our team. We've got a couple new additions and obviously guys coming back that are hungry, that want to do better than they did in the past.

"I'm excited. I think from top to bottom, our team looks good and I think everyone's excited to get started here and prove that we're a better team than people think."

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