J.T. Miller’s Accelerated Path to the NHL

If the month of January wasn’t remarkable enough for J.T. Miller, then the start of February only adds to the 19-year-old’s outstanding 2012-13 campaign.

After winning a Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships and representing the Connecticut Whale at the AHL All-Star Game, the Blueshirts recalled Miller and he is expected to make his NHL debut on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.

Miller has been on the fast track to the NHL since he was taken 15th overall in the 2011 Draft. Miller — who was ranked 23rd among North American skaters entering the Draft — elected to play for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers instead of the University of North Dakota.

J.T. Miller (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
J.T. Miller (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

In his only season of junior hockey, the East Palestine, Ohio native didn’t look out of place. Miller tallied 62 points (25 goals, 37 assists) in 61 regular season games with the Whalers, and then added ten points in 13 playoff games.

Although Miller was only 19 years old, the Blueshirts signed him to an entry-level contract last summer, and made him one of the youngest players in the AHL.

The transition from the OHL to the AHL was not an easy one for the former first round draft pick.

“The speed of the game is a killer for every level that you go up,” Miller revealed at the U.S. World Junior Training Camp in December. “Everybody can skate (at this level) no matter how big or small they are.”

Miller only recorded seven points through the first two months of the Whale season, but matched that total with seven points in eight games in December.

“He’s continuing to progress and his attitude has been great,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said in early December. “Obviously he has nights where he’s better than others, and we’re doing a lot of teaching, but I like where he’s at (right now).”

U.S. World Juniors coach Phil Housley was impressed more by the leadership that Miller displayed off the ice than the 19-year-old’s ability on the ice.

“Reflecting back on Lake Placid (during the National Junior Evaluation Camp in the summer) I really liked his leadership qualities,” Housley enthused. “He really came into his own as the week wore on, and really helped get the guys unified on the ice and away from the rink as well.”

Housley rewarded Miller by naming him an alternate captain of the U.S. squad, and the forward responded with nine points in seven games.

While Miller’s offensive numbers are impressive, it’s his play on the defensive side of center ice that excites the Rangers. Miller also realizes that he needed to become a complete player in order to get the call to Broadway.

(Credit: Chris Rutsch)
(Credit: Chris Rutsch)

“They do all the little things right,” Miller said about the Blueshirts. “It really pushes me to be more of a player like that. Just (to) be more well-rounded like a lot of the guys are.”

Whether Miller’s stay with the Rangers is for a game, a week, or the rest of the season remains to be seen. The Blueshirts are anticipating the return of Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider in the near future, but if Miller performs, there’s no reason to believe that he will be sent back to Connecticut.

Either way, Miller is on the right track to have a successful NHL career.

In fact, it’s the fast track.