Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller grew up in Santa Clarita and hung around the Kings' old Iceoplex practice facility in North Hills, where he met Rob Blake, Luc Robitaille and other players. That he would someday become an NHL player, too, was almost unimaginable to him back then.
"It was always a dream. You kind of put it in the back of your mind," said Miller, who played one season with the Junior Kings and also played in the Ventura Mariners' organization. "It's definitely been a long road."
Miller, 27, left Southern California to continue his hockey career, first to attend prep school in Massachusetts and later to play at the University of Vermont. He wasn't drafted by an NHL team but signed with the Bruins' farm team in Providence, R.I., and made his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman has made a sustained contribution this season, averaging 17 minutes and 55 seconds' ice time per game, mostly on the third pairing.
"I think he's been a real good surprise as far as how quickly he came around and how good he's been for us," Bruins Coach Claude Julien said as his team prepared to face the Kings on Saturday at the TD Garden.
"He brings an element that our team really likes a lot and that's defensively he's reliable, he's big, he's strong, he's tough and yet he still has good composure with the puck. When I saw him in the minors in his first year, I guess personally I didn't think he was going to become this good this quickly. I saw a big, strong guy, but he'd have to do some work with the puck as far as management and passing and everything else. But he's a player that's not going to be flashy but, as coaches say, he's going to be effective, and that's what Millsy is."
Miller still lives in Southern California in the summer and often skates at the Kings' practice facility in El Segundo. As a Californian, he was delighted when the American Hockey League announced last week that it would establish a division next season with five California-based teams.