FullTilt Flashback: The moment J.T. Miller realized his potentialJ.T. Miller has not had it easy under head coach Alain Vigneault. The former 15th overall selection in the 2011 entry draft was on the Hartford Express between the Rangers and Wolf Pack (NYR AHL affiliate) for the first few years. In 2013, he came into camp out of shape and that must’ve left a real bad taste in Alain Vigneault’s mouth.
That season he played 30 games and registered 6 points as he was shuttled back and forth between the two clubs. On the 6th demotion Vigneault said to the press:
[su_quote cite=”NY POST” url=”https://nypost.com/2014/04/03/vigneault-j-t-miller-hasnt-earned-the-right-to-stay-in-pros/”]“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis. He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.”[/su_quote]
Last year he came into camp fit and determined, but due to issues at center and his difficulty grasping the position was still riding the Express to Hartford. On October 17th, he was sent down for AHL journeyman, Chris Mueller who was seasoned at center. When Derek Stepan returned, it eventually opened up an opportunity for Miller back on the wing.
He returned against the Flyers on 11/29/14 and scored a goal and an assist in his first game back. He started to look strong on the puck at both ends and was producing with 4 goals and 5 points in 8 games. Then the bottom fell out again and he was scratched in late December.Miller had been playing extremely well on both sides of the puck. Alain Vigneault asserted that he felt he could have been better versus the Caps (12/23/14), but it wasn’t adding up. It was obvious that the coach just didn’t feel Miller was maximizing his potential.
Pat Leonard of the NYDN reported the next day of the scratch, JT Miller was tense at his locker, with a team public relations representative hovering close by, after skating as the Rangers’ extra forward. He braced for the inevitable question about his status, at which point he responded tersely. “Whatever is best for the team,” the third-year forward said. “I just hope we win.”
The scratch worked as J.T. Miller settled down and he picked up 5 goals and 18 points in the team’s last 45 games while playing 3rd and 4th line minutes. Slowly, he was earning Alain Vigneault’s trust. That trust finally earned him a top line spot in the Eastern Conference Final and it paid off for both Miller and his coach.
During last year’s playoffs, Miller was averaging 14:01 minutes per game through the first two rounds. The injury to Mats Zuccarello, Martin St. Louis‘ slump and Kevin Hayes‘ inconsistencies have led to a 1st line spot and more ice time (15:07). The result was a 1 goal and 4 point performance in the Rangers biggest game of the season in game 6 of the ECF and his 5th point in that series. Miller had only 3 points total against Pittsburgh and Washington.
[su_quote cite=”NY POST” url=”https://nypost.com/2015/05/27/the-challenge-that-turned-derick-brassard-into-a-game-6-hero/”]“I’m just trying to drink in the experience,” Miller said. “I got a taste last year in the Pittsburgh series, being down, in the last series being down as well. A lot of the older guys have a lot of experience. They’re so calm, there’s not much panic.”[/su_quote]
The experiences from 2013 to that crucial Game 6 payed off. Alain Vigneault’s tough love approach appears to have worked with this young and budding power forward. Sadly, the Rangers failed to complete the mission and fell to Tampa Bay in Game 7. Yet all was not lost because this was the moment J.T. Miller realized his potential in the NHL.
His potential coupled with his character bodes for great things in his future. When I heard this story which was later reported by Mike Morreale on his blog in 2013, I knew this kid was special. It came on the heels of winning it all at the World Juniors and what he did with the gold medal?
This season, Miller has gone from 3rd line duties to 2nd line winger and he’s thriving. With 12 goals and 24 points on the year, Miller has already set career highs in both categories. His next two assists will beat last year’s mark of 13. The scary thing is he appears to be just heating up with 4 goals in his last 5 games.
As we watch young J.T.’s career unfold in front of our eyes, you can see his confidence grow. He’s starting to look larger than life. With every goal and assist he puffs up his chest a bit more. It’s not an air of arrogance either but one of confidence. The sky’s the limit for this young star, and for the future of the Rangers as well.