GRAND FORKS — Mitchell Miller was rather busy with the Tri-City Storm this season.
He developed into a first-team all-United States Hockey League pick, the University of North Dakota's first on the blue line in five years. He had a stretch where he was named the league's defenseman of the week four times in six weeks. He worked his way into contention to go in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
But the UND recruit still followed his future team close enough to understand the theme for the 2020-21 season: unfinished business.
Miller wants to be part of the solution, so that's why the 5-foot-10, 181-pound right-handed shooting defenseman has opted to come to school for the upcoming season instead of returning to the USHL.
"They have unfinished business and I want to come and contribute to that," Miller said. "I can't wait to come into an awesome program. It's awesome to be able to move on to North Dakota."
Miller's arrival will make UND's defensive group even deeper and more skilled.
The freshman class alone will feature three players who could go in the top 60 of this year's NHL draft: Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven and Miller. It also is expected that 2019 fifth-round Detroit Red Wings pick Cooper Moore will come in the fall.
The returning players are all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference pick Matt Kiersted, first-round NHL draft pick Jacob Bernard-Docker, Gabe Bast, Ethan Frisch and Josh Rieger.
"It's going to be awesome for me to look up to them and try to learn stuff from them," Miller said. "It will be great to have good role models all around."
Offense is Miller's forte.
His development path has been similar to that of former UND blue liner Christian Wolanin. Both were forwards for much of their lives, but moved to defense just before joining the USHL.
Miller, who is from Sylvania, Ohio, was moved during the 2016-17 season at Honeybaked. It has taken some time to learn the position, but he's carried his offensive instincts with him, just as Wolanin did.
Miller had 16 points in 48 games during his first full season in the USHL with Cedar Rapids. He doubled that this season in Kearney, Neb.
"I would say I developed as a player both on and off the ice," Miller said of his 2019-20 season with Tri-City. "I thought I developed my skating. It was much better. My gap (with attacking forwards) has definitely improved. That was the biggest thing I needed to work on. Breaking pucks out of tight areas was another area."
Miller said he spent a lot of time working with Tri-City's defensive coach, Ethan Goldberg, to develop those areas of his game.
While strong defensive groups have long been a staple of UND hockey, it has been five years since a Fighting Hawks recruit has been named first-team all-USHL. Nick Mattson, Jordan Schmaltz, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman and Hayden Shaw did it five years in a row from 2010-11 to 2014-15.
Those players ended up playing big roles in turning UND into one of the most prolific teams when it comes to scoring by defensemen. UND has finished in the top five nationally in scoring by defensemen in eight of the past 10 years.
Miller, who was once committed to Miami, said he's been well aware of UND's reputation.
"After I de-committed from Miami, I don't think I was thinking about any other school," he said. "I had my heart locked down on North Dakota. I didn't know much, but I always heard they were the powerhouse in college hockey growing up. It was my dream school to go there."