Sep 21, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT
Turn back the calendar to twelve months ago. At this time last year, Miami University senior Andy Miele was preparing for his final season with the Redhawks in hopes of capturing a capturing an national title. But unlike most respected players in the junior or collegiate ranks, he wasn’t sure that he’d have a home when his final season was complete. You see—this is the life for an undrafted collegiate athlete.
Little did Miele know last summer that he was about to embark on one of the more dominant CCHA seasons in recent memory. All it took was 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games to get the attention of NHL scouts and general managers. The Hobey Baker Award didn’t hurt either. In the previous year, he was a point-per-game player—but no one was prepared for the breakout season Miele was about to drop on the hockey world. By the time he was done, he had the teams from all over the league bidding for his services. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t surprising when he chose to take his services to… Phoenix?
In hindsight, Miele’s choice to play in Phoenix shouldn’t be so surprising. For undrafted free agents, one of the most important aspects when choosing a destination is available opportunity. Is there an chance to make the big club at a particular position? In Phoenix’s case, there was a bit of a void at the center position. But it’s been more than just opening for Miele. It’s been the right fit as well.
“I love the staff here in Phoenix,” Miele explained. “It’s been great—it’s a great group of guys. But the opportunity seems to be what caught my eye the most. That’s what you need to look for: the best opportunity to play. I felt like that would be in Phoenix.”
Even though Miele tore though the CCHA all the way to the Frozen Four last season, there was a fairly large reason why he wasn’t originally drafted when he was eligible to be claimed at the Entry Draft. More specifically, there was a “small” problem. The Michigan native is listed at 5’8” and 175 lbs, but the 5’8 listing is unquestionably on the generous side.
If a player with his skill and heart was put in a body that was 6’2,” 210 lbs, he would have been a first round draft pick. Like most vertically challenged players, overcoming questions about his size isn’t anything new.
“It’s been pretty much the same throughout my whole life,” the Hobey Baker winner shared. “People just saying I can’t do it just because of my size. People always think that’s going to hold me back, but that’s just motivate for me to prove people wrong. I do it for myself and I do it to prove people wrong. I’ve had to do it my whole life—it’s nothing different, so it’s not like I’m jumping into something that’s unexpected.
“I’ve always played gritty my whole life. I love to mix it up with guys and get in the corner and play a little bit of a physical game. I feel like that can separate me from other little guys. The determination out there is huge for me.”
Obviously for a player to prove scouts wrong that only see his size, he has to make up for it in other areas. Like Miele said, he doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and doesn’t hesitate to battle to when the game calls for it. The quick comparison for most when they hear about a talented (yet small) offensive dynamo is to go to the Martin St. Louis card. Yet in Miele’s case, there are better comparisons out there.
Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving sees a different NHL center with the most similarities: “He reminds me little bit of Derek Roy in Buffalo. He sees people around him. He has the ability to make people around him better. I’m really intrigued to see him with the NHL players [in preseason games]. Some people are going into holes, he can create space. When people talk about [smaller players like] Gerbe or St. Louis, the one thing I say is that those guys have dynamic speed. [Miele’s] quick, but I wouldn’t call him a dynamic skater. But he has the vision.”
There’s no question that Derek Roy is some pretty good company for a guy who is still battling for a spot on an NHL roster. But we’re also talking about a player with world-class skills who has already represented the United States at the IIHF World Championships. For his money, Miele has a different player comparison in mind—one that will hit much closer to home for Coyotes fans.
“I’ve been watching Ray Whitney a lot and I love the way he plays,” Miele said. “I feel like we play a lot of the same style with being a playmaker and really being very strong on the puck. I feel like I want to model my game after him.”
Not surprisingly, he also said he’d like to have the same kind of longevity as Whitney. But before he can jump into a skates of a 39-year-old veteran, Miele understands that the pro game is a completely different animal—both on and off the ice.
“The whole game is different—especially from college,” Miele admitted. “You have to think faster, you have to move faster. Everything you have to do is faster. The work ethic is unbelievable. My first practice, Shane Doan was out there, when everyone was off, working on his stride. The guy’s been in the NHL for how many years? You can never think that you’re at the top of your game and you can’t get better. There’s always something you can improve on. You can always get stronger or fix something in your game. That’s something you always have to do.”
If he’s looking for a mentor to show him what it takes to succeed in the NHL, his captain in Phoenix is one of the best examples in the league. And just like his captain, Miele knows that he’s going to have to have a well-rounded game if he wants to make the NHL roster and stick around for a while. That may mean initially taking on a role that he’s not as familiar with. With Daymond Langkow, Marty Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon taking up three center spots on the roster, Miele may be asked to start his career in a bottom-six role to start his career. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for energy players—not prolific scorers.
“In college, I believe my sophomore year; I think I was a 3rd liner,” the eager Miele confirmed. “But in college it’s a little different—you can roll three ‘skill’ lines. But I have no problem getting the puck in and working the corners, and throwing my little weight around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to be up with the Coyotes. If they want me as a third liner, I’ll do that. I don’t care.”
He sounds like just about any other potential rookie hoping to break into the NHL. The difference is that Miele’s skill, ice-awareness, and vision make him a potential YouTube star on any given night. Teammate Brett Hextall summed up his ability when he simply said, “his skills are pretty outrageous.” The next step is to show the Coyotes management that he can display the dynamic offense on a nightly basis while doing all of the little things that are expected of an NHL center. If the rookie camp and early preseason game are any indicator, he’s going to make it tough on Don Maloney and Co. to send him down to Portland.
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