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Miller looks to lead Team USA

12/17/2012
Rangers prospect J.T. Miller Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- As one of only three returnees from last year’s squad, 19-year-old forward J.T. Miller is looking to seek some retribution for Team USA following a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships.

And he’s thrilled the New York Rangers are letting him do that.

Although Miller is playing for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale, the Rangers agreed to let their 2011 first-round pick participate in the tournament.

“Absolutely. It meant a lot to me,” Miller said from the MSG training camp center in Westchester. “Being one of the only returnees, I’m trying to be a leader, one of the leaders of this team. There’s kind of some unfinished business from last year I want to take care of.”

The 6-foot-2, 212-pound winger brings size and skill to Team USA’s squad, but he also provides a wealth of experience. Miller is the only camp candidate that is currently playing in the American Hockey League.

“I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s been there before,” said Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton. “Plus, he’s playing at the pro level now."

Gorton acknowledged that Miller took some time to adjust to the jump in play from the junior to AHL level -- the East Palestine, Ohio, native has five goals, nine assists in 26 games for the Whale -- but he's been one of the team’s best forwards the last few weeks.

“Just the speed and strength of every single guy on the ice, no matter what size they are, is just something to adjust to,” Miller said of his transition. But, there are more games to play and I’m just trying to build off of that and learn from everything that happens.”

Gorton said Miller’s skill level and hockey sense make him hard to play against -- a reason the Rangers took him 15th overall in the draft less than two years ago -- and that last year’s experience in international competition should serve him well.

Miller hopes that can also have a residual effect on his teammates.

“We have a lot of guys that this is their first experience doing this,” Miller said. “I’m the only guy playing pro also, so I’m just trying to take what I know and try to feed it onto the guys, try to guide them and lead them along the way here. Just trying to give them any knowledge I can about what to expect.”

The personnel and personalities are different from last year’s underachieving squad, however. And while the names may not be as recognizable, Miller hopes their grit and heart make up for it.

“I think it’s a lot different from last year. I think last year we had a lot more firepower, maybe bigger names on the team, but I think this year we have a lot of guys willing to do all the dirty things, play down low, and guys that are really grinding and getting their nose dirty,” Miller said. “I think, for all the guys that are working hard, it’s going to pay off for us."