The Toronto Maple Leafs, with their 180th pick in the 2020 draft, selected American forward Joe Miller. As with so many Leaf picks, he’s listed on the smaller side at 5’9” and a featherweight 146 lbs. He plays for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, who have been connected to the Leafs in the past—current Marlies coach Greg Moore was previously their head coach, and development coach Darryl Belfry works for both the Leafs and for the Steel.
Miller spent last year tearing up Minnesota high school hockey for the Blake School, which you may but probably don’t remember for producing fringe NHLer J.T. Wyman. Miller put up an impressive 59 points in 25 games, good for 21st in league scoring. (Blake Biondi, who finished second, was also drafted today when the Montreal Canadiens took him 109th overall.)
Joe Miller may literally be the youngest player in the draft this year; his September 15, 2020 birthday is the last eligible date. Lauren Kelly of our sister site Raw Charge described him as “an elusive skater”, which is a good thing to be at his size. Him going at 180 is about on schedule; McKeen’s Hockey had him at 183 on their list.
If it weren’t for the longstanding connections to the Steel, you might assume Kyle Dubas just hunts down whatever light forwards he can find for this kind of thing. It’s certainly not going to do anything to overturn the stereotypes of what players Dubas likes. As with all sixth-rounders, hopes for Miller should be very modest, but hey—they’ve had some success with small forwards in the past.
Joe Miller gave a Zoom Interview after his selection. The Mitch Marner comparison came up, needless to say.
Joe Miller says he models his game after Mitch Marner: "Undersized guy like me, so I've idolized his game and how he carries himself, and just the way he's able to create space for himself, and be elusive. I really enjoy watching him."— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 7, 2020
Joe Miller on what he would ask Mitch Marner: "He's kind of gone through the same situations or questions I've gone through like, 'how can you be an undersized guy and still be effective at the next level?' I'd ask about that and how [he's] continued to be successful."— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 7, 2020
Newly drafted Leaf Joe Miller: "I'm still a senior in high school."— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 7, 2020
From McKeen’s Hockey:
The youngest and one of the smallest players in the draft class, Miller is an offensive dynamo. The Minnesota commit is a half-wall quarterback, equally capable of unleashing a powerful wrister on net, as he is at locating a linemate with a pass in open space. On the other side of the puck, he needs a lot of work.
You won’t ever see him enter an Eric Lindros beast mode (barring an inhuman growth spurt), but the future Golden Gopher is an offensive machine regardless. His skating is just what you would expect out of someone so light, with acceleration, top speed, agility, and stride power all grading out as above average. As a power-play quarterback from the half-wall in a Patrick Kane mold, he can unleash his powerful wrist shot or use his high-end vision to find open teammates in space. He is not much of a defensive player, and of course, can’t really hold his own physically, but could be a diamond in the rough for a team willing to let the fearless forward develop his way through their system after the draft.
This didn’t go in, but it did make me laugh.— Ryan Hardy (@ryanphardy) September 20, 2020
Joe Miller (#2020NHLDraft) 20 foot aerial backhand flip to Adam Fantilli (#2023NHLDraft) through his legs into the net (the one above the glass, not the one behind the goalie, unfortunately!) #ScrimmageLife #HockeyIsBack pic.twitter.com/mbxpBG7Aup