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Andy Miele: The Little Player That Could

Andy Miele's improbable journey to the NHL continued this season with his first career points.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

He was not supposed to make it to the National Hockey League. Critics said he was too small, his game wouldn't translate to the pros, and he's not talented enough.  Phoenix Coyotes forward Andy Miele heard them all a few years ago.

Thirty teams, seven rounds, 210 players drafted, and Miele did not hear his name called on draft day. The undrafted forward wasn't deterred, however and returned to Miami University for his second season in hopes of getting noticed.

"I was upset that I wasn't drafted, but I knew why and it just fueled my fire," Miele told Fox News. "You want to prove to everyone that passed on you that they made a mistake. Now I have a chance and it's up to me to make it happen."

Miele's small frame, 5'8" 180 pounds, concerned NHL scouts.

After leading the NCAA in scoring his senior year with 71 points and a Hobey Baker nomination (an annual award given to the NCAA's top men's ice hockey player that Miele eventually won), Miele got the attention he lacked on draft day.

"He's come a long way in a couple years. You can tell in his confidence. He goes into the face-off circle and he wants to play, instead of going out and going oh I'm not sure I can play."- Dave Tippett

Twenty teams expressed interest in the then 22-year-old Michigan native. Miele chose the Coyotes and signed a two-year contract.

The following season, the Coyotes sent Miele to their minor league affiliate Portland Pirates to begin the 2011-12 season. He scored three goals and seven points in his first four professional games and earned a call-up to the NHL.

After five scoreless games in which Miele had more penalties than shots, he was sent back to Portland. He had a successful minor league season scoring 16 goals and 54 points in 69 games, leading the Pirates in scoring. Miele was called up for two additional NHL games that season but could not find the score sheet.

Miele replicated his minor league numbers from the year before, scoring 19 goals and 53 points in 70 AHL games to once again lead the Pirates in scoring. He even starred in the Pirates' Gangnam Style music video. His size earned him the role of the dancing child.

Unfortunately, Miele played only one NHL game in the 2012-13 season and found himself a free agent at season's end.

Last July, Phoenix signed Miele to a one-year contract and he began the 2013-14 season in the minors. He scored eight points in six games and was recalled to Phoenix when the injury bug struck the Coyotes.

Fans eagerly awaited the season debut of the former Hobey Baker winner who had played only one NHL game since December 2011.

Scoreless through eight career games, Miele finally broke through in game nine. He scored a pair of assists en route to being named the No. 1 star of the game.

For the first time, the 25-year-old center feels comfortable in the NHL.

"I've been up and down for the last two years," Miele said. "I know the guys a lot better and the system much better. I think I can keep on rolling here."

Miele has played three games, but hasn't scored since his first. His overall play, especially in the defensive zone and in the face-off circle, has improved, however.

"I think he's had his two best games that I've ever seen him play," Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris said.

A sentiment echoed by his coach.

"He's come a long way in a couple years. You can tell in his confidence. He goes into the face-off circle and he wants to play, instead of going out and going oh I'm not sure I can play," Coach Dave Tippett said.

That confidence and comfort with the system was evident at training camp. Miele said during training camp those two factors have prepared him for a chance to have an NHL impact this season.

As the Coyotes get healthy, the numbers game may push Miele back to the minors. If that happens, he goes back to Portland after leaving a positive impression on his coach and teammates and an increased likelihood of seeing NHL minutes in the future. However, Miele may hold on to that roster spot longer than anyone expected.

Miele has already defied the odds; the new goal is to set expectations higher than ever.