Miller Makes His Mark

Sometimes, a little youthful exuberance goes a long way.

Carl Hagelin joined the New York Rangers for their 19th game of the season on November 25th, 2011, and his speed and skill gave the team a much-needed added dimension. On April 16th, Chris Kreider made his debut (ironically enough, thanks to Hagelin’s suspension) and took full advantage of the opportunity, leaving an indelible mark in his 18 playoff games and a glimpse of why Glen Sather wasn’t interested in including him in a trade for Rick Nash.

If his first two games are any indication, it’s now J.T. Miller’s turn to give the Rangers something they need.

The Rangers salute the crowd after their 4-1 win over the Islanders Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

One year removed from being the Rangers’ first-round draft pick, Miller’s goal was to make the jump from the OHL to the NHL. The lockout put a kink in that plan. As the NHL and NHLPA quibbled over dollars, Miller was assigned to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. He also had the opportunity to play for Team U.S.A. at the 2013 World Junior Championship, where he served as an alternate captain and won a gold medal. With no open roster spots, the Rangers did not invite additional players to their shortened training camp once the lockout ended. Miller would have to wait a little longer.

As with Kreider in the 2012 playoffs, it was all about timing and circumstance. The Rangers’ depth, already lacking with a completely healthy roster, was being  tested with injuries to Kreider (bone chip in the ankle) and Ryan Callahan (shoulder subluxation) and players just not performing up to expectations. Miller would finally get the opportunity to achieve what he would set out to do, getting the call from the Rangers and making his NHL debut on February 5th. In the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, he logged 14:25 in ice time and was one of the Blueshirts’ better players in what was another uninspired performance.

Even with Callahan returning earlier than anyone expected, Miller showed enough to earn a spot in the lineup again on Thursday night against the New York Islanders. John Tortorella put him in over the struggling Brian Boyle. Starting on the third line with fellow Americans Callahan and Kreider, he made the most of his debut in front of the home fans, beating Evgeni Nabokov from the left side 89 seconds into the game to notch the first goal of his NHL career and put the Rangers up 1-0. He was also used on what has been an ineffective power play, and it paid off when Ryan McDonagh dished the puck to the rookie, who broke past the Isles’ defense to score his second of the night and put the Rangers up 3-1. His performance in 13:31 of ice time was enough to garner him first star honors, cheers from the appreciative crowd and the Broadway Hat from his teammates.

Two games do not a career make by any stretch of the imagination. Post-game Tortorella expressed concern about forcing him into situations that could hinder his development. He’s right – and you don’t have to look much further than Michael Del Zotto to learn those lessons. Should Miller struggle over the next week, the decision to return him to the AHL is easy. If he provides spark and offense, not only will the Rangers have to determine whether it’s worth burning one year off his entry level contract, but if it’s worth potentially knocking his growth a few steps back for the immediate good of the team. If it does wind up being the latter, it cannot be all on his teenage shoulders to carry this team to where it was expected to go.


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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927

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