A day after the Bruins made their signing of Mitchell Miller official, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday there’s no guarantee that the prospect with a checkered past will ever be eligible to play at the NHL level.
Miller, originally a 2020 fourth-round pick by Arizona, had his draft rights relinquished after a report by the Arizona Republic detailed Miller’s extensive bullying of a Black classmate with disabilities. Included in the report was Miller’s admittance in juvenile court to an incident where the future NHL-draftee wiped a candy push pop in a bathroom urinal and forced the victim to lick it, causing the victim to be tested for hepatitis, HIV and STDs. Surveillance video also showed Miller and another teen kicking and punching the victim.
The victim also alleged that Mitchell repeatedly call him racial slurs during their time as classmates. Mitchell was convicted of one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio State Schools Act in juvenile court.
According to Bettman, the Bruins did not consult the league prior to signing Miller to an entry-level deal on Friday and that if Boston ever wants him to take the TD Garden ice, the NHL would need to review Miller’s case.
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“He’s not coming into the NHL, he’s not eligible at this point to come into the NHL,” Bettman said. “I can’t tell you that he’ll ever be eligible to come into the NHL. If in fact at some point they think they want him to play in the NHL -- and I’m not sure they’re anywhere close to that point -- we’re going to have to clear him and his eligibility and it’ll be based on all the information that we get firsthand at the time.”
Bettman admitted that Miller is free to play somewhere else, an acknowledgement of the Bruins decision to send him to their AHL affiliate in Providence.
Bruins president Cam Neely stated Friday that the team did extensive background work on Miller prior to the signing.
“During this evaluation period, Mitchell was accountable for his unacceptable behavior and demonstrated his commitment to work with multiple organizations and professionals to further his education and use his mistake as a teachable moment for others,” said Neely in a statement. “The expectation is that he will continue this important educational work with personal development and community programs as a member of the Bruins organization.”
“As a member of the Bruins organization, I will continue to participate in community programs to both educate myself and share my mistakes with others to show what a negative impact those actions can have on others,” said Miller in the same statement. “To be clear, what I did when I was 14 years old was wrong and unacceptable. There is no place in this world for being disrespectful to others and I pledge to use this opportunity to speak out against mistreating others.”
In an interview with the Boston 25 News on Friday, the victim’s mother, Joni Meyer, said Mitchell only reached out to apologize last week. According to her, Mitchell reached out to the family through Snapchat and said the apology was unrelated to hockey- a notion she doubts.
“I think Mitchell needs to be remorseful for what he did. And he’s not,” said Meyer.
Meyer says that Miller’s abuse of her son has left mental scares that may never heal.
“He’ll never be okay,” said Meyer. “This was was an everyday thing for 10-12 years of his life.”
Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron told reporters prior to Saturday’s game against Toronto that he was first approached by General Manager Don Sweeney about a week ago regarding the possibility of signing Miller and admitted that he held reservations regarding the signing.
“I had my concerns. I shared my opinion. In a way, I think I was not necessarily agreeing with it,” Bergeron said. “To be honest with you, I think the culture that we built here goes against that type of behavior. I think we’re a team that’s built something about character, and character people and individuals. What he did, obviously, is unacceptable and we don’t stand by that.
“In this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect. Those are key words and core values that we have. We expect guys who wear this jersey to be high-character people with integrity and respect. That’s how they should be acting,” Bergeron added.
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Forward Nick Folgino added that the deal was a “tough thing” for the locker room to grasp.
“I’m not going lie to you,” Foligno said. “I don’t think any guy was too happy because of how proud we are to say that this is a group that cares a lot about ourselves and how we carry ourselves and how we treat people.”
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Mitchell was named the USHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year after a 2021-22 campaign in which his 39 goals and 83 points broke the respective records for a defenseman.
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