Bode Wilde (Ranked #17) and K’Andre Miller (Ranked #26) are the top defensemen coming out of the United States Development Program this year, and both blue liners appear to be adjacent prospects in a multitude of ways. They’re both highly touted for their skating ability, they both possess large frames, they were born just three days apart, and at times they even find themselves on the same pairing with Wilde being the right-handed shot and Miller being the left. But, there is some differences in their skillsets that separates them as prospects, and that’s what we’re going to look at today as we look at these two mobile American blue liners.
What Wilde Does Well
Wilde is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft, and that’s because he owns a couple attributes that are truly elite among his peers. Wilde is one of the best skaters I’ve seen for not only his size, but for a defenseman of his size, which makes him a truly rare talent. He owns excellent 4-way movement and can be very fluid, but he adds a layer of explosiveness to his game as he can be like a derailed locomotive moving down the boards on the rush. These clips are perfect examples of the explosiveness Wilde can add from the backend, as he collects the puck on the rush in both instances and drives right into the teeth of the defense, daring the defenders to match his speed. In both instances, he’s able to beat the opposing defender and drive to the net for a scoring opportunity (#15 in White & #15 in Blue):
Naturally, this skating ability makes Wilde an excellent player in the transition game. He can easily corral the puck in his own zone and turn this into a controlled zone entry for his team, an ability that can’t be overvalued in today’s NHL where maintaining control of the puck is paramount in controlling the flow of a hockey game. This clip here is a perfect example of how Wilde can carry a puck into the zone using just his skating and puck control, as he streaks past oncoming checkers before dishing the puck off to Samuelsson, who eventually was able to stuff the puck past the Finnish netminder for an overtime winner (#52 in Blue):
Skating is not Wilde’s only elite attribute, though, as he also possesses an all-world shot, and he loves to use it. At times, Wilde can play almost like a rover in the offensive zone and is always looking to score goals. If he has an opportunity to shoot, he’s going to take it, and if his lane is blocked he’ll look to create new shooting lanes by using his legs to change the angle on goaltenders and defenders. I love this goal in particular, as he looks to shoot at the point but is cut off by the oncoming forward. He cuts to the right quickly and races down past his checker and finds a new lane to shoot, where he lets his shot loose and beats the opposing netminder through the arm:
These qualities can make him somewhat Brent Burns-esque at times, as he is still quite raw in some of his decision making as well as his consistency. At times, he’s a little prone to playing too risky as he’s the definition of a home-run player. He swings big on the chances he takes in the offensive zone and on the rush, and will need to learn the right moments to step in to attempt these types of plays. However, on this play, he displays exactly what you want to see from a defenseman with his skill set. Here, he’s able to make a defensive play in his zone and get the puck up to his forwards in transition, using his legs he quickly joins the rush as the trailer and is in position to receive a pass in the far circle, where he wires it past the goaltender (#52 in Blue):
This is textbook transitional play from a defenseman, and the real trick for Wilde is finding the consistency in his decision making on a nightly basis. You need not look far though for another defenseman with a similar skillset to Wilde, as it comes in the form of his occasional defense partner.
What Miller Does Well
Miller is another American blue liner with elite mobility with great size to match. A converted forward, Miller has adapted well to applying his skating to the defensive side of the puck, as he can move excellently in all four directions and can close very quickly on puck carriers. In conjunction with his 6’4″ frame, Miller can cover a ton of ground quickly and is also unafraid to close off attackers physically, which can make him a daunting opponent when attempting to cross his blue line. This play is an excellent example of how Miller can limit time and space from oncoming attackers, as he’s coming off the bench he’s able to close quickly on the puck carrier streaking down the far side boards. He reaches in his with his stick, wedges the puck loose to a teammate, and steps in to the puck carrier to finish his check (#19 in Blue):
This makes Miller a very good possession player as he’s able to limit the time of attackers, and in turn, just like Wilde, he can use his skating ability to quickly transition the puck. Often times Miller takes a safer approach than Wilde, but this is textbook transitional play by Miller and he brings this composure with the puck on a nightly basis. You see on this play Miller is able to control the puck behind his own net, and effortlessly burst into full stride with the puck on his stick. He’s able to evade a passive forechecker as his head is up surveying his options before he sends a pass to a teammate at the far blue line (#19 in Blue):
Miller’s teammate is unable to secure a zone entry, but there’s an example later in the very same game of Miller doing it himself. He makes the odd flashy play that he’s capable of to evade a forechecker in the neutral zone as he gains the red line before getting the puck deep for his forwards to pursue (#19 in Blue):
Important to note in this play is that Miller is capable of making flashy plays with the puck, primarily using his skating ability and his reach with the puck to evade opponents either transitioning out of his own zone or rushing the puck into the offensive zone. He doesn’t do this as often as Wilde and doesn’t often get the offensive results that Wilde gets from similar plays, but Miller does pick his spots to carry the puck and play risky at the right times more consistently than Wilde does. These are excellent plays off the rush by Miller, as he uses his skating ability to beat defenders wide in order to set up offensive plays in front, one as he feeds a teammate in front and another where he drives to the front for a goal of his own (#19 in White):
Miller can also create offensive opportunities in more scenarios than just off the rush, as he owns good poise around the offensive blue line and doesn’t often panic when he receives the puck at the point. This play is great, as he receives the puck along the offensive blue line and is able to shake away from pressure with his smooth skating ability and surprisingly quick hands. He eventually drives the puck into the slot and is able to create a scoring opportunity for his team (#19 in Blue):
It’s this kind of creativity and puck carrying ability you can get from both players, but if Miller’s decision making is more consistent, that begs the question…
Why Wilde over Miller
Consistency issues aside, what Wilde brings on the offensive side of the puck is truly special as a defenseman. He owns size, elite skating ability, and an elite shot, and in turn he can also score goals on the rush in a way I’m not sure any other defenseman in this draft can outside of Rasmus Dahlin or Adam Boqvist. Miller and Wilde both own similar skill sets when carrying the puck, but Wilde applies these attributes in the mindset of consistently creating offense, which I’m not sure the same can be said of Miller, and the production backs this up. Playing on the same team, Wilde put up 12 goals and 41 points, while Miller produced 9 goals and 29 points in just 3 fewer games. Wilde’s ceiling as an offensive player for me outweighs the steadiness and consistency in Miller’s transition game, and while I think Wilde might have a longer road to achieving his fullest potential, if he realizes that potential I truly believe he could blossom into a Brent Burns type defenseman.
Wilde is a riskier selection with higher upside, while Miller is the much more consistent player, and I favor the player with the higher upside.
My final rankings are already in, but the more I review Miller in lead up to the draft, the more I like him and consider moving him up further in my 1st Round. His mobility, intelligence, and consistency in effort I think may make him a sure fire lock to contribute in an NHL top 4 someday, not to mention he’s also considered a very high character kid that NHL management and coaches are sure to love.
However, at the end of the day, I believe the goal of the NHL draft should be to uncover the league’s future stars, and Wilde is easily the player with more star potential between the two defensemen. I’d hedge my bets more heavily on K’Andre Miller becoming a top 4 defenseman, but I don’t think he has the top pairing ceiling like Bode Wilde does, despite Wilde being the far riskier pick in my eyes.