- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Think J.T. Miller is hell-bent on sticking around?
The 19-year-old rookie made a strong case for himself Thursday with a tremendous game in his Madison Square Garden debut, igniting the crowd with a goal on his first shift and notching a second in the middle frame to help lead the Rangers to a 4-1 win against the Islanders.
Called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, Miller has injected some energy into a Rangers lineup that has struggled with consistency. The 2011 first-round pick (15th overall) was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing loss to the Devils in his NHL debut on Tuesday. He delivered another impressive performance in the team’s second rivalry match of the week, tallying his first two NHL goals.
“It’s a special feeling and it’s a game he’ll always remember,” said captain Ryan Callahan, who fished the puck from Miller’s first goal from the net to give to the youngster. “It couldn’t have come at a better time for us.”
For a Rangers team that has been guilty of chasing too many games of late, Miller helped set the tone early by opening up scoring just 1:29 into play.
He notched another goal in the second period, giving the Rangers a much-needed power-play goal on a breakaway at 18:11. Before his man-up marker, the team’s power-play unit was an anemic 3-for-36 on the man-advantage.
“I’m just trying to stay even-keel here,” Miller said. “Obviously it was nice for me, but even better is that we got the win on home ice and a big bounce back from last game. We just have to keep looking forward.”
So must the Rangers' front office, which will be faced with an important decision soon.
Miller has three more games before the club must decide whether to send him back to the AHL or keep him up while triggering the first year of his entry-level contract.
So far, coach John Tortorella is pretty happy with what he’s seen.
“He’s got some bite to him and I’d rather have a guy you need to tame a little bit as he’s learning to be a pro than to try to get someone to play with some spunk like that,” Tortorella said. “He’s got some good strut to his game.”
The Rangers have received major contributions from the team’s deep pool of prospects over the past few years. In fact, the club never truly hit its stride last season until late November. That was when then-rookie Carl Hagelin’s blazing speed and ability to chase down pucks dramatically changed the team’s dynamic; he helped jump-start a club that went on to capture the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference.
There's probably no better time when the Rangers could use a similar spark than now, as the lack of balance and scoring depth continues to surface as a concern.
“It’s so important for the organization to keep filling in with kids,” Tortorella said. “Cap world, youth and enthusiasm. Hagelin comes up here and changes our team last year. I’m not sure where it goes, but both of them have contributed here during the first couple of games.”
Miller got his first taste of NHL action on Tuesday and his first (and second) goal just one game later. He even got to wear the team’s makeshift MVP trophy, the Broadway Hat, after his stellar night.
“It’s a nice hat,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to getting a win next game so I can pass it off.”
9hPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald