After a disappointing training camp, 20-year-old Craig Millar was sent back down to the AHL to work on his consistency and NHL game. But after the Oilers less than mediocre start, he was called back up for a six-game road trip, as management attempted to fire up the team by mixing up the roster. Smart move by ole Slats. The former Sabres draft pick has finally gotten his chance to shine after years of hard work and bumps in the road.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba native first caught the eyes of scouts as a 16-year-old playing in the WHL for the Swift Current Broncos. Millar was drafted 225th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 1994, causing a future in the NHL to look doubtful. However, Millar was not discouraged and his strong character came into play as he became determined to go on to the next level. Craig put together an All-Star season in ‘95/96 when he was second in scoring for Swift Current at 72-31-46-77-151, remarkable considering that he’s a defenseman. He then moved one step closer to the big time when he was called up to Rochester of the AHL for the ‘96/97 season.
With the Americans, Craig learned the fundamentals of a strong two-way game and, most importantly, an emphasis on conditioning and consistency. The Oilers were looking for an offensive-minded defenseman who could quarterback the power play and start the rushes and there was Craig Millar, doing just that with the Amerks. So on March 8, 1997, Oil management traded Miroslav Satan to the Sabres for young Millar and fellow rookie Barrie Moore. He finished up the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, including a trip to the Calder Cup Finals, where he got the experience to lay the groundwork for an NHL future.
Craig went to training camp but was intimidated and couldn’t keep himself or his game focused. “I don’t know if I was star struck or what. I was pretty tense. I was standing around and not doing a lot,” said Millar. So he was sent back down to Hamilton to clear his head and get refocused. It worked because Millar is now with the Oilers and has been one of the few bright lights in their dismal season thusofar. As in his own words, “to get four goals is obviously a surprise for anybody coming into the league as a D-man.”
A notoriously hard worker, Craig grew up in a low-income household where he took on numerous jobs to earn money. He scaled fish during summers and delivered water softener for hours before practice all through junior hockey. He learned to appreciate hockey whenever he could play and developed a fierce love and devotion for the game.
Craig Millar plays much in the form of Calle Johansson of the Capitals. He’s a good skater and can get to the net or back in his zone quickly. Millar also has the size (6-2, 220) to make him a dominant force worth taking notice of. His scoring ability is first-rate and he can rip a killer shot from the point. His offensive game includes terrifically soft hands and excellent hand-eye coordination. Craig has good hockey sense, anticipation and placement. He plays a heady game impressive for such a young player but his defensive play could use some work. He needs to utilize his strength and size to make his presence known.
Craig Millar has come a long way from the basement of the Draft to be one of the promising young stars of the NHL. His dedication, character and hard work make him a respectable role model, as well as an excellent addition to the Oilers hockey club. He’s earned his spot in the NHL and should have no trouble keeping it.