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K’Andre Miller remembers getting occasional odd looks or sometimes racially-coded responses after telling people what sport he plays.

K’Andre Miller, defense, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

“They didn’t see me as ‘the hockey player type.’ I was a long, skinny kid. I looked like a basketball player,” Miller told me recently. “Every time I would go out to eat, people would be, like, ‘Oh, you play basketball, don’t you?’ I’d be like, ‘No, I actually play hockey.’ And they’d be like ‘Wow, you don’t really look like that type of player.'”

As a defenseman on USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 squad, Miller is proving them wrong.

The 6-foot-3, 191-pound 17-year-old from Minnetonka, Minnesota, is blossoming into a blue-chip blue-liner for the NTDP after making the switch from forward only two season ago.

Miller, who’ll turn 18 on Jan. 21, will be eligible for the 2018 National Hockey League Draft in June in Dallas. NHL Central Scouting gave Miller a “B” rating last month, meaning he’s projected to be second or third-round pick.

He played in the 2017 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, New York, in September. He’s tallied 2 assists in the U.S. National Under-18 team’s first 13 games of the 2017-18 season and notched 3 goals and 14 assists in 54 games for the Under-17 squad in 2016-17.

NHL Central Scouting projects defenseman K’Andre Miller to be a second or third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft in June (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Headquartered in Plymouth, Michigan, the national team development program competes internationally, and also plays U.S. colleges and teams in the United States Hockey League, the nation’s only Tier 1 junior league.

While Miller has his sights set on playing in the NHL, he’ll attend the University of Wisconsin first.

He’s committed to play for the Badgers and Head Coach Tony Granto – who’s also the bench boss for the 2018 U.S. Winter Olympics men’s hockey team in South Korea in February – starting in the 2018-19 season.

If  Miller achieves his NHL goal, give an assist to to Minnesota Wild team captain Mikko Koivu.

“For my ninth birthday, I went down to Dallas to watch the Stars play the Wild,” Miller told me. “We went down to the locker room after the game and Mikko came up to me, shook my hand, said happy birthday, and asked when the next time I would be at a home game in Minnesota because he was going to try to get me a stick.

K’Andre Miller looks forward to playing in the NHL someday. But first he’ll play for the University of Wisconsin, starting next season (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

“I went back to the rink in Minnesota about two months later and he picked me out in the stands, he had the trainer come up with a stick and hand it right to me,” Miller added. “That was probably the coolest experience I think I’ve ever had with an NHL player.”

That experience helped seal the deal for Miller wanting to become a professional hockey player. But Miller’s uncle, Ken, should also get an assist for exposing his nephew to the game at an early age.

“He would take me out on the rink when I was little,” Miller recalled. “I started skating when I was two and he kind of helped me, put a stick in my hand, kind of taught me the game.

“I’d go over to his house whenever I wanted to and just watch games with him,” he added. “One of the cool things I still like about my Uncle Ken is whenever I usually go over there, we play roller hockey in his backyard.”

K’Andre Miller, right, is all smiles playing for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Minnesota has produced several talented black hockey players, including Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, forwards Kyle Okposo of the Buffalo Sabres and J.T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Keegan Iverson, a 2014 NHL draftee who plays for the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings’ American Hockey League farm team.

But that hasn’t stopped some folks from wondering what the tall black kid from Minnetonka is doing on the ice with a stick in his hand. Miller takes pride in showing doubters that he’s built for the NHL.

“It’s always been my motivation to prove to people that no matter what your skin color is, what you look like in general, you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it,” he said. “When I see people of color in my community in Minnetonka and Hopkins trying to play hockey, I always go up to them whenever I can and straight-up tell them ‘Don’t listen to what anybody says. Play whatever you want to play, if it’s hockey, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, whatever you want to do. Just do it.'”

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