‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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For two games in a row, rookie J.T. Miller was been the New York Rangers’ standout player. He’s barely getting his feet wet in the NHL, but Miller looks the part of a sensational and exciting talent.
During the Rangers’ defeat Tuesday at the Prudential Center, Miller in his NHL debut was the most active and energetic player wearing the road-white sweater. It was only a taste of things to come as Miller electrified the Madison Square Garden crowd in his home debut by scoring two stylish goals in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the rival New York Islanders.
He couldn’t have picked a better way to announce himself to the Garden faithful. As the third period wound down, his name echoed around the Garden as thousands of joyous Rangers fans chanted his name.
I caught up with Miller at his locker stall as waves of reporters and photographers all wanted a piece of the Rangers’ newest young gun.
“I know it’s unbelievable just to be in this arena and be to playing,” Miller stated. “I feel very fortunate. It’s something I looked forward to for a long time.”
When asked of what it was like to hear the Garden crowd chanting his name in unison, Miller said he was taken aback by the response of the home crowd.
“It’s kind of a cool feeling right there, it’s something you can only dream about. I dunno, it kinda happened so fast out there for me,” he replied.
It was a win the Rangers desperately needed after so many questions were being asked about this team following their 3-1 loss to the Devils at Prudential Center on Tuesday.
Miller’s first goal came just 1:29 into the game. It was a determined effort as he drove to the net, but also a composed effort as he lost control of the puck — but didn’t panic. He coolly kicked the puck toward his stick and snapped the shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
Linemate Ryan Callahan collected the puck out of the net. Miller later described Callahan as player who has helped him with the transition to NHL life.
“You look at our captain Callahan and a lot of forwards — Stepan and those guys should make it easy helping me along,” he said. “Obviously, Step’s played in the World Juniors as well, he’s welcomed me. Cally’s helped me out whenever I needed to.”
Questions about the Rangers’ woeful power play were also put on the back-burner as Miller’s second goal came on the man advantage. It seems that Miller hasn’t been infected by the power play drought that has swept through the Blueshirts like the flu.
His burst like a racehorse put him beyond chasing Islanders’ defenders and put the puck through Nabokov’s five hole.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella likes what he’s seeing from his 19-year-old center. More than his abilities, Miller has a bit of a swagger to him. He knows he belongs in the NHL.
“He has some bite to him,” Tortorella said during his post-game press conference. “I’d rather have a guy that you need to tame a little bit as he’s learning to be a pro, then to try to get someone to play with some spunk. I like the way he carries himself. He’s got some good strut to his game.”
Why shouldn’t Miller be full of confidence? He’s coming off a hugely-successful tournament at the 2013 Under-20 World Junior Championships where he helped USA earned the goal medal.
“It’s the best players in the world at my age, really good caliber hockey over there and I couldn’t ask for more,” he stated.
Chris Kreider has power and speed in abundance. Carl Hagelin is blessed with fleet-footed speed, Miller brings strength on the puck and tremendous poise.
“I think they’re two different type players,” Tortorella said of Hagelin and Miller. “I think Miller has a lot of puck poise for such a young kid. He’s a bigger body, he’s a different type player.”
Miller has become the youngest Ranger with a multi-goal game since Alexei Kovalev scored a hat trick in 1992. Not bad company to be in….
Rangers fans, how excited are you by Miller’s promising future? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.