DETROIT – In little more than nine months, Drew Miller has gone from ironman to rehab patient.
“One of those years you want to forget,” Miller said this week.
Since he was claimed off waivers early in the 2009-10 season, Miller has been the Red Wings’ model of durability. But now he heads into a summer of uncertainty following the reconstructive knee surgery he had 15 weeks ago.
It’s been quite the ordeal for Miller, who in three separate incidents since last March almost lost his right eye, suffered a broken jaw, and tore what remaining ligaments were in his left knee.
“The good thing is my knee is going to come back stronger,” Miller said, confidently. “My ACL has been torn or partially torn for 10 years so I’ll come back a little stronger with my knee. … Definitely motivated.”
Until December, Miller was the Red Wings’ ironman, having played in 190 straight regular-season games. Not even some 60 stitches to close a gruesome cut under his right eye during a game against Ottawa last March deterred Miller’s streak.
But a vicious collision with Arizona’s Klas Dahlbeck on Dec. 3 forced Miller out of the Red Wings’ lineup for 14 games when the Coyotes’ defenseman drove his shoulder through Miller’s chin, breaking his jaw.
In mid-January – during his second game back from the jaw injury – Miller tore his left meniscus when he was hit along the boards during his first shift in the third period at Anaheim, on Jan. 10. Five days later he underwent surgery to repair the meniscus and to reconstruct a previously torn ACL.
Miller had played most of his career with the damaged ligament. It only became problematic after the innocent-looking hit by Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore at the Honda Center.
“I never had any problem,” Miller said. “I was able to skate and play, and I was fine. Train. I never had an issue with it. It was just something you deal with. It never hindered me or anything like that. When I tore my meniscus they went in and fixed both. Now it already feels better than it has. So we’ll go from there.”
Rehabilitation has been long and strenuous, but Miller is glad to be back skating occasionally at Joe Louis Arena these past three weeks.
“Rehab is going good,” he said. “Feeling better, still got a little ways to go. I think it was right around the first of June that was the goal. … Now this goes into the summer, I’ll continue to rehab it, so far so good. Everything is on the right path. The knee is feeling a lot better every time.”
The 32-year-old Miller, who finished the season on long-term injured reserve, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He would like to return for an eighth season in Detroit but he understands the team’s changing landscape for the upcoming season.
“It’s definitely going to be big changes with (Pavel Datsyuk) leaving and we’ll see what other changes are in store,” Miller said. “Right now, for me it’s just getting myself healthy and giving myself an opportunity to get another contract.”
The Wings would decidedly benefit by re-signing the 6-foot-2 shot blocker, who is coming off a three-year contract that was worth $4.05 million. Miller has spent the past seven seasons with the Red Wings, producing 51 goals and 100 points in 449 games. Used primarily as a fourth-line grinding forward, Miller is widely considered to be one of the league’s top penalty killers.
Despite missing the past 54 regular-season games, he has been one of the league’s top shot-blocking forwards over the past two seasons. In that time, he ranks 11th in the NHL with 132 blocks in 110 games, which is just 29 blocks short of Ryan Kesler’s 161 blocks in 160 games. Miller’s average of 1.2 blocks per game also leads the league since 2014-15.
“I’d like to come back,” he said. “Definitely got to get myself healthy and cleared and then go from there.”