By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING -- These are exciting times for incoming Michigan State freshman defenseman Tommy Miller.
On Saturday, Miller expects to hear his name called by one of 31 National Hockey League teams on the second day of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
A few days later, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder from West Bloomfield, will likely take part in his new team's development camp, along with other top prospects in the organization.
Then on July 5, Miller will officially start his academic career at Michigan State on the first day of classes for the second summer term. And for two months, he'll work out with other Spartan freshmen -- off the ice and on the ice at Munn Arena -- until the fall term begins on Aug. 28.
Then it's more off-ice training with the entire team, occasional on-ice work with the coaching staff and captain's practices without coaches.
Since ending his season with the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team in April, Miller has continued to skate and work out on his own.
Two weeks ago, he attended the NHL Combine in Buffalo where he took part in physical testing and was interviewed by six teams.
Miller said he's excited and anxious about what might transpire at the NHL Draft in Chicago on Saturday.
"I'm more anxious to see what team I'm going to -- the area, the players and the team,'' Miller said. "It's exciting because it's another opportunity and a big step in my career.
"But time is eating away and you want to know where you might play.''
Of course, getting drafted is kind of the easy part at this point in one's career.
Whether Miller or any of the players drafted in seven rounds on Friday and Saturday in Chicago makes it to the NHL depends on how they develop in the years to come -- in college, juniors or the minor leagues.
Miller, a right-hand shot defenseman, is ranked No. 81 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. That doesn't include Europeans.
So, where is Miller projected to be drafted?
"Everybody is saying that they could see me taken in the third round and all the way to the sixth,'' Miller said. "They just don't know with this draft. A guy could go 21st or 121st. You just don't know.''
Miller, who played for the U.S. U-17 team for part of the 2015-16 season and with the U-18 team all of last season, is considered one of the Spartans' top incoming recruits.
Miller, no relation to the Spartans' famous Miller family (10 alums) of the past, is eager to make an impact in his first season, and in the first year of the Danton Cole era at MSU.
Cole, who coached at the U.S. NTDP for the last seven seasons, took over as MSU's head coach on April 11.
"I want to develop a lot as a player, get bigger and faster, adapt to the college speed and take on a bigger role with the team,'' Miller said. "I want to be in a top-four pairing and take on a bigger leadership role every year.''
What kind of defenseman will Michigan State fans see when Miller makes his Spartan debut this fall?
"I'm a two-way defenseman that takes care of his defensive zone first, with good defensive capabilities, and can also bring some offensive push by supporting the rush, being the fourth guy and keeping plays alive in the offensive zone,'' he said. "I won't be that offensive. You'll be able to notice some of it, but I'll be taking care of the d-zone first.''
In 65 games for the U.S. U-18 team, Miller had three goals and 17 assists for 20 points.
Miller committed to MSU two years ago under the previous coaching staff of Tom Anastos and assistants Tom Newton and Kelly Miller, but he didn't wavier from his intentions of playing for the Spartans when he learned there would be a coaching change.
"When I heard they were looking for a new coach, I was going to wait and see who the new coach was going to be. But when I heard it was Coach Cole, I knew I was going to stay,'' Miller said. "I know he's a demanding coach, which our team needs and which would be good for me, too. It was no-brainer when he was hired.''
Last season, Cole coached the U.S. U-17 team while Miller played with the older group, the U-18s. Still, Miller got to know his future coach while practicing and training daily at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
"I'd have a couple of interactions with him every week around the locker room or watching his team practice,'' he said. "I'd talk to him about three times a week. He'd reach out to me when he saw me.''
Miller, a 2017 graduate of Walled Lake Western High School, played his youth hockey in the Detroit area with teams like Compuware and Victory Honda. He started as a forward but has played defense for the last four seasons.
He credits his sister, Margot, who is 10 years older, for getting him excited about the game.
Margot left home to play hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's, a well-known prep school in Faribault, Minn., when Tommy was 7-years old. She went on to play at North Dakota (2008-12) and now lives in Grand Forks.
"She's the oldest and she kind of started all the kids in our family getting into hockey. She loved the Red Wings, started playing the game and then moved away to Shattuck,'' Miller said. "I would hear her stories when she came home in the summer. Then when she went to college, she'd tell me all about it and guided me into it.
"I was looking up to her and feeling that she made it in college hockey and so could I.''
Miller's family includes his mom and dad, Laura and Mark, and sisters Margot, 28, and Meryll, 21, and brother, Beau, 24.
Asked about the moment he felt he could be pretty good at the game of hockey, Miller offered up story about a bizarre and memorable moment in his career.
"In my first year of playing, when I was age 5 or 6, I scored three goals on one shift, and everybody was going crazy,'' he said. "They were saying `That's ridiculous to score three goals on one shift.' "I'm thinking, `Well, maybe I should keep playing this game. Maybe I'm good at it.' My love for hockey grew from there.''
It's been a long and interesting journey for Miller. And now Michigan State, and hopefully an NHL career, are just ahead.
KHODORENKO ALSO UP FOR DRAFT: Michigan State center Patrick Khodorenko, who will be a sophomore next season, is also expected to be drafted on Saturday in Chicago.
Khodorenko, who had seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 35 games last season as a freshman, is ranked No. 106 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. However, he's ranked 92nd among all skaters in the Hockey News' Top 100 Rankings.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward from Walnut Creek, Calif., wasn't eligible for last year's NHL Entry Draft because of a late birthday. He was born on Oct. 13, 1998. Under NHL rules, players must turn 18-years-old by Sept. 15 to be eligible for the draft. Khodorenko turned 18 a month later.