By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s little doubt that Colin Miller is one of the more talented young defensemen in the Bruins organization. The 24-year-old still has the upside of a top-four defenseman, perhaps top-two. But Miller also remains unpolished as a player; he still makes too many poor decisions with the puck and is inconsistent in his own end.
Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy decided to use Tuesday night’s win over the Nashville Predators as a learning tool for Miller, who watched from the ninth floor as fill-in John-Michael Liles played a clean, largely mistake-free game with no giveaways. Liles was a plus-1 with two shots on goal and two blocked shots in the win.
Cassidy was impressed with the effort from Liles, who hadn’t played for the Bruins since Feb. 26 in Dallas. But he was also apparently pleased that Liles taught Miller a few things about being a pro.
“[Liles] knows the drill,” Cassidy told NESN after the game on Tuesday. “We were looking for a consistent performance out of him to pair with Kevan [Miller], and allow Colin to go upstairs and watch a game and see how it plays out, how much time you actually have in situations, and sometimes it’s good for a young player.
“But getting back to [Liles], he did his job. He’s a true pro. He’s been working hard every day in practice, knowing that when his time comes he wants to be ready, and he was.”
As for Colin Miller, it’s clear that the Bruins are not quite satisfied with his level of consistency on the ice. Miller certainly has some of the best talent on the Bruins defense corps; his skating ability pops off the screen at times and his shot is one of the hardest on the team. But Miller is also, ostensibly, still too raw for Cassidy’s liking.
Cassidy’s comments also heavily imply that Miller’s off-ice work is in question. Reading between the lines, the coach may believe that Miller still has room for improvement in the professionalism department. Cassidy remarked to reporters after the game that Liles is a “true pro” who has “worked hard on his conditioning” to be ready for the next time his number is called. Obviously, the coach rewarded him for his efforts.
It’s unclear whether Miller actually has any problems learning the pro game and doing everything it takes to stay in the lineup, that would go beyond the normal growing pains for a young player. But despite Miller’s talent, it is clear when you watch him play that he is still prone to mistakes with the puck and the kind of defensive lapses that could prove costly if they happened at an inopportune time. Still, Miller remains arguably the Bruins’ most physically gifted defenseman and the team will likely need his presence down the stretch as they battle for a playoff spot.
Tuesday night was a curious time for Cassidy to be sending messages or doling out learning experiences, but for one night it worked out. Hopefully, for Miller, the message was received. Because the Bruins can’t lean on Liles forever. The Bruins are going to need Miller’s talent on the ice and not in the seats.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.