TAMPERE, Finland (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that Mitchell Miller is not eligible to play in the league, one day after the defenseman signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins.
The 20-year-old Miller was selected by Arizona in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, but the Coyotes relinquished his draft rights for bullying a Black classmate with developmental disabilities in middle school.
The Bruins signed Miller after spending several weeks during an evaluation period with the player. Miller said he would continue to participate in community programs to educate himself and share his mistakes with others.
“He’s not coming into the NHL, he’s not eligible at this point to come into the NHL,” Bettman said in Tampere, Finland, ahead of the second regular-season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Bettman said the NHL was not consulted by the Bruins on the signing.
“If, in fact, at some point they think they want him to play in the NHL, and I’m not sure that they’re anywhere close to that point, we are going to have to clear him and his eligibility and it’ll be based on all the information that we get first hand at the time,” Bettman said.
“So the answer is they were free to sign him to play somewhere else, that’s another league’s issue, but nobody should think at this point he is or may ever be NHL eligible. And the Bruins understand that now.”
The Coyotes knew of Miller’s 2016 assault conviction when they drafted him. They parted ways with Miller amid criticism after learning more about his bullying of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers.
The University of North Dakota announced a day later that Miller was no longer with the school’s hockey team.
Miller pleaded guilty at age 14 to one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act. He and another teenager were accused of making Meyer-Crothers eat a candy push pop after wiping it in a bathroom urinal, and surveillance video showed them kicking and punching him.
Meyer-Crothers’ mother, Joni, told The Arizona Republic that Miller started bullying her son in second grade and used racial epithets.
Miller sent a letter to all 31 NHL teams acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behavior. Joni Meyer-Crothers said Miller never personally apologized to Isaiah or their family other than a court-mandated letter.
“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely,” Miller said in a statement. “I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual. Since the incident, I have come to better understand the far-reaching consequences of my actions that I failed to recognize and understand nearly seven years ago.”
Miller sat out the 2020-21 season before scoring 39 goals with 44 assists for Tri-City of the USHL in 2021-22. He was named the USHL’s player and defenseman of the year after setting league records for goals and points by a defenseman.
Members of the Bruins reacted to the signing before Saturday’s game against Toronto.
Patrice Bergeron said general manager Don Sweeney broached the possibility of adding Miller to the organization with him last week, and Boston’s captain made it clear he had concerns.
“The culture that we built here goes against that type of behaviour,” the 37-year-old Bergeron said. “In this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect.”
Boston forward Nick Foligno called the signing “hard to swallow.”
“Tough thing to hear for our group,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie to you. I don’t think any guy was too happy.”