By Matt Calamia
It was a challenging start to training camp for J.T. Miller, but one that ultimately may have made the young player better off in the end.
During the first day of camp, Miller injured himself during the team’s skating tests, an injury that would sideline him for several days and the first three preseason contests.
But Miller bounced back and ended up having one of the best camps of any player on the roster, scoring two goals in three preseason games, good enough to earn the 20-year-old forward a spot on the opening night roster this Thursday in Phoenix.
“The weight is off my shoulders, I guess,” Miller told BlueshirtsUnited.com after Sunday’s practice. “I’ve got to take advantage of a good opportunity.”
That opportunity arose due to injuries — both wingers Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan are rehabbing from shoulder surgeries — which opened two spots that were up for grabs. What may have helped Miller find his way onto the roster was his versatility of playing either center or wing.
“I guess it helps that I can play both, so either one is fine,” Miller said of playing both positions. “I’m happy to fill in in either place.”
Miller’s two goals in the preseason were tied with defenseman Marc Staal for the team lead. Miller said he felt the lines he was on during his three preseason games — in Edmonton, Vancouver and against Los Angeles in Las Vegas — were effective.
“I thought the lines I played on played pretty good,” said Miller, who scored two goals and two assists in 26 games with the Rangers last year as a rookie. “I think we had more offensive zone time than defensive zone time. We played pretty consistent. I thought the games went really well.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said Miller matured and improved from the start of training camp through the final cuts on Sunday.
“Miller just got better as camp went on,” Vigneault told reporters Sunday. “He did some good things offensively. He still has — like a lot of players — a lot of work to do, but he was able to put a foot in the door. We’ll see how he does now to stay in the top-12 forwards.”
Miller said he’s “not there yet” to being back to 100 percent, but that he’s on the way. “I feel great, but obviously you could be in a little better shape,” he said. “I’m going to work on that and try and get back as soon as possible.”
What did you think of Miller's game in preseason? Are you excited to see what he can do in the regular season? Let us know in the comments below.