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J.T. Miller remains work in progress for Rangers

24-year-old forward having best NHL season, but 'there is room for improvement'

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller would have a reason to worry if coach Alain Vigneault wasn't always demanding more out of him.

"With the twins [Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin with the Vancouver Canucks], I must have been harder on them than I was with any other players," said Vigneault, who coached the Canucks for six seasons from 2006-13. "When you see guys that have potential, you want to help them deliver that potential. The fact is there is a lot of potential there."

There's a case to be made for Miller reaching his potential this season.

He has 22 goals, the same amount he had last season, but his 56 points are 13 more than he had in 2015-16 and second on the Rangers heading into their game against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

Video: NYR@SJS: Miller beats Jones up high with wrister

But as recently as last week, Miller was playing on the fourth line, demoted because his play away from the puck had deteriorated.

"I still think there is room for improvement, and a better player will continue to progress," Vigneault said.

This is why Vigneault still refers to Miller as "a young player going through the process." He says that about all of the Rangers' young players. He stopped saying it about Chris Kreider this season because he's 25, in his fourth full NHL season and has played 321 games in the League.

Miller is 24 and in his second full season in the NHL despite playing in 275 games. He played 114 games for the Rangers from 2012-15, but he also played 58 in the American Hockey League.

"The process is long," Miller said. "I definitely was going through a major part of it for a number of years. You could say I still am. I definitely haven't figured it out."

Miller has figured out enough to be an impactful part of New York's core as they embark on their seventh consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, likely as the first wild card from the Eastern Conference.

Video: NYR@SJS: Miller hammers home one-timer for PPG

He's taking control more this season, acting like a quarterback for his linemates.

"He wants the puck," Rangers associate coach Scott Arniel said.

Not all players are like that. Arniel referenced Kreider as a player who wants to give the puck up so he can go find holes to get scoring chances. Miller is the opposite.

"We've all seen that he can be this impactful player; I think he's just put it together this year," center Derek Stepan said. "He's figured out what it takes to get through an 82-game schedule, the importance of being on the same page as your linemates, and what works for him in terms of play recognition. That's why you see him running better numbers."

Miller said he's learned more on the penalty kill. He's averaging 1:17 of shorthanded ice time per game. In 2015-16, he played one minute on the penalty kill all season.

"More often than not, I'm worried about my net," Miller said. "Sometimes I'm not, and it gets me in trouble."

Like for a few games late last month, when he was making poor reads away from the puck and turning it over when he had it. So Vigneault put him on the fourth line.

But Miller played an aware defensive game and an assertive offensive game against the San Jose Sharks on March 28. He scored two goals in a 5-4 overtime loss.

Vigneault started him on the fourth line against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next game but bumped him up to play on the second line with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash in the second period. He had an assist on each of the Rangers' two goals in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss.

"Some games, my feet stop moving and I stop being physical, and that's when I go in stretches when I'm not producing," Miller said. "When I am doing those things, the ice opens up and I can make a good, nice play."

Video: FLA@NYR: Miller beats Reimer with wrister from circle

The Rangers would like Miller to start making more plays for himself. They're pushing him to shoot more because he arguably has the hardest and heaviest shot on the team.

"And he's eighth on our team in shots (131)," Arniel said with a twinge of shock in his voice.

Michael Grabner has 29 more shots on goal despite playing 270:46 less. Miller has delivered a lot of the passes that set up Grabner's shots.

"I guarantee you if he has a 2-on-1 and he has the puck, he's going to pass it," Arniel said. "He says to me he watches [Nash], but if [Nash] has five opportunities, four out of the five times he's going to shoot, if not five. J.T. right now is one of five."

That's not enough. Miller knows it. He thinks it's why he's eight goals shy of 30 this season.

Video: NYR@TOR: Miller slams home a rebound to tie the game

"I don't shoot enough to score 30 goals," Miller said. "To score 30, I'd have to shoot like a 30 percent now, and that's not happening. I'm not going to just go out there and shoot from all over, but probably I should shoot more. It's something I definitely should work on."

A few years ago, that might have just been lip service from Miller. It's not now.

Vigneault keeps pushing him, and Miller keeps improving. The coach isn't going to stop. Miller would be concerned if he did.

"I'm happy that [Vigneault] was hard on me when I was younger and he still is," Miller said. "He expects a lot. I can take it."

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