Hartnett: Rangers Must Give Promising Forward J.T. Miller A Legit Shot
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By Sean Hartnett
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On Friday, the Rangers recalled forward J.T. Miller from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Miller will go straight into the Blueshirts’ lineup on Saturday when the Rangers renew their fiercely-contested “Hudson River Rivalry” with the New Jersey Devils.
Miller struggled to cope with the need for quick decision making in the fast-paced NHL before his November 26 demotion to Hartford. The 20-year-old’s time on ice was slashed between eight and nine minutes per game his most recent games with the Blueshirts before he was scratched for four consecutive games and eventually shuttled back to the AHL.
Head coach Alain Vigneault is willing to give Miller another chance. He doesn’t have much of a choice as both Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt have been ineffective passengers when dressing for the 15-14-0 Blueshirts.
Vigneault has lost patience in Pouliot.
“Ben has been given a real fair opportunity, and hasn’t played to his and our expectations,” Vigneault told reporters on Saturday. “Tonight we give that opportunity to someone else.”
That someone else is Miller.
At Saturday morning’s practice, Miller skated on a line with Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin.
MILER HAS ALL THE REQUIRED ABILITIES TO SUCCEED AT THE NHL LEVEL
Miller’s statistics do not make for positive reading in 2013-14. He has only netted one goal and registered a single assist while wearing the famous red, white and blue sweater of the Rangers. Yet, it’s clear that he has all the physical tools to compete at the NHL level.
More importantly, he has the confidence. When speaking with Miller, it’s clear that he carries bit of a swagger. He clearly believes in his own abilities. That’s a very healthy asset for a 20-year-old trying to cement a place on an NHL roster.
“I just try to say confident,” Miller said earlier this season. “I try not to get down too much. I’m a pretty competitive guy. I used to have a bad attitude and get down on myself. I just try to work through that by staying positive, just being confident going forward and trying not think about the past too much — just always be moving forward and being prepared.”
Miller plays with an obvious edge. He likes to get in the face of opponents and is both quick-skating and powerful. All he needs to do is figure out how to put it together on a game-to-game basis.
Vigneault would be wise to give Miller a consistent run of games, paired with significant minutes. The Rangers head coach admitted on November 26 that he wasn’t sure how Miller’s career will project. Vigneault is sure that Miller has a “tremendous amount of upside” and knows that the development of youthful talents can be hindered if they do not receive adequate minutes.
“You always wonder where a guy can fit in,” Vigneault told reporters in Tampa.
“Can he fit in your top-six or top-nine or your bottom-six? With J.T., I haven’t figured out yet what exactly he is. Is a top-six forward? Is he a top-nine or is he a third or fourth-line player? He’s a young player who has a tremendous amount of upside. How that is going to unfold and how that is going to develop, we’re not quite sure. I am sure about one thing, though — you can’t develop if you don’t play.”
Chris Kreider has flourished because he now knows he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder at all times, fearing an AHL demotion. While Miller’s tools aren’t as jaw-dropping as Kreider’s, he is indeed a very talented young hockey player.
Should Vigneault give Miller a solid look, it wouldn’t be surprising if Miller’s natural abilities and desperation to succeed results in him locking down a place on the Rangers’ roster. It’s only a matter of time before Miller takes off like a rocket and doesn’t look back.
RANGERS ACQUIRE FORMER 11TH OVERALL PICK BEACH FROM BLACKHAWKS
On Friday, the Rangers dealt forward Brandon Mashinter to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Kyle Beach.
The 23-year-old Beach will begin his time with the Rangers in Hartford. Originally drafted by Chicago 11th overall in the 2008, Beach has failed to live up to expectations as he is yet to reach the NHL. He has also developed a reputation for being a reckless player, both on and off the ice. Not only is Beech recognized for sparking massive brawls with opponents on the ice — he’s also known to have been involved in heated scraps with teammates.
Such concerns scared off general managers from claiming Beech when he was pushed through waivers on September 23.
Still, there is a level of ability that the Rangers are hoping to summon from Beach. In 66 games for Rockford of the AHL, Beach notched 16 goals and 10 assists in 2012-13.
He’s known to go hard at the net with reckless abandon. The Rangers will need to cut out that other side of Beach’s impassioned game that forced him to sit in the penalty box for 204 minutes last season in Rockford.
Perhaps, a fresh slate and a change of scenery will benefit Beech. Rangers general manager Glen Sather has decided to roll the dice on a controversial player in Beach. It will be an interesting experiment to see if the Blueshirts can get Beach to tone down his attitude and allow to reach at least some of his potential as a power forward.
Follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.
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