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Miller hopes to brings lessons from Vegas to Buffalo

Defenseman wants to help build winner on Sabres

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Colin Miller felt he was part of something special in Vegas. He'll look to replicate that feeling in Buffalo. 

The Sabres acquired Miller from the Golden Knights on Friday in exchange for a second-round pick in 2021 (from St. Louis) and a fifth-round pick in 2022.The 26-year-old, right-shot defenseman spent the past two seasons in Vegas and was a part of the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.

"In Vegas, I learned a lot of valuable things," Miller said during a conference call on Saturday. "We had a great team there and we learned a lot over two years about playoffs and what it took to win. Hopefully I can transition that over and try and be part of something here that's winning.

"I know it's been a little bit since there's been playoff hockey in Buffalo. They were right there last year so it will be a lot of fun trying to build something special here."

Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said his interest in Miller dates back to the defenseman's days in the AHL, when Miller's Manchester Monarchs squared off with Botterill's Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in postseason play. 

Miller continued to add playoff pedigree in the ensuing years, playing spring hockey in three of four NHL seasons with Boston and Vegas. 

"I have the utmost respect for what Vegas has done over the last couple years," Botterill said. "It's an amazing story for our league. We talked a lot about it with Brandon Montour coming into our group, the playoff experience he got in Anaheim. It's the same thing here with Colin.

"At every level, he's had an opportunity to play in playoffs. Especially the last two or three seasons, getting that much playoff experience, playing in those situations, the intensity, just having that understanding of what it takes to get to the playoffs and have success in the playoffs." 

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Sabres coach Ralph Krueger suggested Vegas' aggressive defensive scheme will make Miller a fit on the ice as well. 

"I spoke with Colin this morning, he's up in Sault Ste. Marie, and we had an excellent conversation," Krueger said. "His energy that he brings, the experiences he's had now with Vegas, a team that plays on its toes, that likes to have an aggressive defensive style, really suits us."

Miller led Golden Knights defensemen in assists (57) and points (70) over the past two seasons, but it's his possession numbers that standout most. His Corsi-for percentage since entering the NHL in 2015-16 is 56.13, which leads all NHL defensemen in that span (min. 82 games played).

The addition of Miller bolsters the right side of Buffalo's defense corps, where he joins a mix that already includes Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour, Zach Bogosian and Casey Nelson, with William Borgen expected to compete for an NHL spot after a strong rookie season in Rochester.

That's a crowded field, but with injuries having bit the Sabres' defense in recent seasons - Bogosian is currently recovering from hip surgery - Botterill said the move was made to add depth as well as internal competition. 

"Right now, to me, this gives us options," he said. "It gives Ralph flexibility with the lineup. You look at our defense corps the last couple years, we've dealt with injuries. We wanted to improve our competition and improve our depth, and that's why we made the move."

Botterill reiterated the value the organization places on Ristolainen, adding that the defenseman has had positive discussions with Krueger since the coach's hiring in May. Krueger said he believes Ristolainen's game can improve within the confines of his system.


"Risto was also somebody I had a long call with, and I could feel the hunger to want to be an important player, first of all in Buffalo but then in the National Hockey League also, going to another level," Krueger said. 

"More than anything, we're going to be looking for a compact defensive game. We want to be playing aggressive, on our toes, and he's got that ability to play aggressively. He's a very physical player. For us as coaches, it's bringing us into the team concept to make sure we're doing it as a group, and it's done at the right time. I don't see one player here who we're not going to challenge ourselves to improve."

Which brings us back to Miller and the lesson he learned in Vegas, where he was part of an expansion team that rallied its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

"It just takes guys who are willing to buy in," Miller said. "If there's one thing that I was most proud of in Vegas, it was the character of the guys and the friendships that I made because we had such good people in that locker room and good people throughout the organization.

"That's exactly what I'm first seeing here in Buffalo from talking to the coach and the players and the GM. It really is some great people here and that's what it takes, ultimately."

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