Boston Bruins

Nov 10, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) talks to defenseman Kevan Miller (86) against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Bruins 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson,

Monday marked 21 months on the nose since we’ve last seen Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller look like.. well… Kevan Miller.

Suffering a broken kneecap on a collision into the Xcel Energy Center boards, Miller’s arduous (and at times seemingly never ending) recovery included at least four additional knee operations, and more Masterton Trophy nominations than games played. It felt that every time Miller got close, a setback came and knocked him back to the bottom of the hill. Miller remained committed to his rehab and tried to remain confident in a complete recovery, but he at one point admitted that he was “worried” about his future.

It hit the point where you couldn’t believe that Miller would ever be 100 percent until you saw it because it never felt close.

Well, the 21-month anniversary of that knee-cracking incident in Minnesota came with Miller’s best progress yet: He was on the ice. In a black jersey. With his teammates. And participating in every drill.

We had seen some of these things over the course of Miller’s 21-month nightmare, sure, but all in one practice? Not even close.

It was certainly a moment worth celebrating, and the Bruins did just that when they threw Miller to center ice to have him lead their post-skate stretch. The decision was, as you’d certainly expect, met with thunderous cheers from his B’s teammates.

“It was awesome,” Brad Marchand said. “Almost got goosebumps watching him. Not only did he come back, but the form that he’s come back in… he’s an absolute animal right now. Watching him out there, he hasn’t missed a beat, he looks incredible.”

Feb 24, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand (63) celebrates with defenseman Kevan Miller (86) after scoring his second goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Monday’s session was about implementing system tweaks as much as it was about getting everyone’s skating legs back. The importance of the latter — especially for Miller — could not be stated enough. And this first session did that. The Bruins began Miller’s day with some breakout, recovery, and board-work drills and sequences that required strong cuts and reverses that repeatedly tested Miller’s knee, and though it was a little shaky at first, Miller looked like the Miller by the end of the session.

For most, this is a mere formality of re-entry into the musts of pro hockey in 2021. For Miller, they were obviously much more.

“Nobody knew the way [Miller’s injury] was going to go, there was potential for it to be career-ending,” Marchand acknowledged. Today we got to see it all in action, but just the way he’s been able to come back and the story he’s written for himself is very impressive, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Cassidy, meanwhile, described Miller’s first session back with his teammates as “great.”

Cassidy also discussed the importance of Miller’s leadership, which will certainly be felt if he’s actually with the team as a healthy and contributing member, and is even more important than usual with Zdeno Chara off to D.C. as a Capital. Miller has played the role of on-ice guardian for young defensemen in the past, serving as a helping hand for Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and countless others. There’s also no doubt that the Bruins will need Miller’s rugged style and willingness to settle scores in a division-only, 56-game schedule built for wars by the fourth and fifth game of a season series.

Jan 14, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Nicolas Deslauriers (20) fights with Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) during the first period at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports)

There’s still a few more steps before Miller’s journey back is complete. Miller would be the first to tell you as much.

But the fact that we’re talking about Miller’s on-ice play at all — and in terms of anything other than unfounded hopes and long shots — is certainly enough to make the 21-month recovery feel worth it for the 33-year-old.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.