The Capitals have had many standout players in their 42-year history, and one of the most recognizable names on that list is Kelly Miller. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look back on the career of one of the most respected members of the 1990s Capitals teams.
Kelly Miller was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 3, 1963 and grew up in Lansing, Michigan. His father, Lyle, played hockey while enrolled at Michigan State, as a defenseman, but owned and operated an ice rink in Lansing that he had acquired in 1975. With such easy access to a place to skate, Kelly and his two brothers, Kip and Kevin, spent a lot of time on the ice. Kelly was overlooked in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft in his first year of eligibility as he played junior hockey in the obscure Great Lakes Junior Hockey League.
Miller played forward at Michigan State, following in the footsteps of both his father and uncle, who also laced up the skates for the school. After his first season there, the New York Rangers drafted him in the ninth round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft (183rd overall). In his four years with the Spartans, he scored 82 goals and had 164 total points in 165 games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (given to the best college hockey player) in 1985 and earned First Team All-America honors that season. During his college career, Miller won two team MVP awards and served as the Team Captain during his senior year.
In addition to being a good hockey player, he was also a good student in college, finishing his academic career with a 3.51 GPA, despite the demands playing college hockey carries. His degree was in Business. He was twice named to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) All-Academic Team, with honorable mention another year.
Miller also participated in the World Junior Championships for three years, representing the United States and scored two goals in his tournaments.
Miller joined the Rangers in time to play five regular season games and three playoff games in the first round. He did not score any goals but did manage two assists. After the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs, Miller went on to represent the United States in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship.
In his first full season with the Rangers (1985-1986), Miller played right wing, scoring 13 goals and recording 20 assists, despite being hampered by nagging knee and ankle injuries. He had three goals and four assists in 16 playoff games.
Washington Capitals Career
After starting the 1986-87 season with New York, Miller was traded to the Washington Capitals on January 1, 1987. The trade included center Mike Ridley and right wing Bobby Crawford, in exchange for center Bobby Carpenter and a second-round draft pick in 1989. Miller had scored six goals and had 14 assists for the Rangers prior to the trade, and after the trade, scored 10 goals and had 12 assists in 39 games played with the Caps.
Miller remained with the Caps for the rest of his career which ended following the 1998-1999 season when he retired. In his first full season in Washington, he scored nine goals and had 23 assists in 80 games played. For the final 11 years of his career, Miller would average 19 goals, 19 assists, and 38 points a season.
During his time with the Caps, Miller scored 162 goals and recorded 246 assists in 940 games. In his NHL career, he scored 181 goals, 282 assists and 463 points in total. While he was never the offensive dynamo in the NHL that he had been in college, Miller evolved into a defensive specialist, often playing with Mike Ridley and Michal Pivonka.
Miller was a finalist for the Selke Trophy for top defensive forward after the 1991-1992 season. The Caps made the playoffs for 10 consecutive years during his tenure there. He was part of the team that advanced to the third round of the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. Much of the team’s success during those two deep playoff runs were attributed to his creativity on offense and his ability to play sound defense. He scored a total of 17 goals and had 30 assists in 10″ career playoff games with the Caps. He served as an Alternate Captain for nearly a decade with the team. He was also the team’s Player Representative in the NHLPA and served as the Vice President of the Players’ Association from 1990-1995.
In the off season, Miller worked as a stockbroker and also earned a real estate license. After retiring, he served as assistant coach for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. After that, he served as coach and General Manager for the Capital Centre Pride in the North American Hockey League. After that, he served as an assistant coach for both the Anaheim Ducks and the New York Islanders. He later coached junior hockey in the Lansing, Michigan area while starting a real estate development company. He is currently an assistant coach with Michigan State, having held the job since May 2011 and serving under longtime friend and college teammate, Tom Anastos.
Miller was not the only member of his family who played hockey. Both his brothers, Kevin and Kip, played for Michigan State and later played for the Caps. Kevin played in the NHL from 1990 through 2000, starting with the New York Rangers and finishing with the Detroit Red Wings. He played with the Caps during the early part of the 1992-1993 season before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. Kip played in the NHL from 1990 through 2004, with numerous stints in the minors, as well. He played with the Caps during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons.
Their uncle, Elwood “Butch” Miller, was the first member of the Miller family to play with the Michigan State Spartans, played defense, and earned two varsity letters. His cousin, Dean, also played with Michigan State. Both of Dean’s sons, Ryan and Drew, also played with Michigan State and made it to the NHL, with Ryan becoming a goalie, currently with the Vancouver Canucks and Drew a forward with the Detroit Red Wings.
Check out more Caps Alumni here:
Portrait of a Caps Alumnus – Mike Gartner
Capitals Alumni of the Week: Calle Johansson
Looking Back on the Capitals Career of Craig Laughlin
Interview With Kevin “Killer” Kaminski
By Diane Doyle