ST. PAUL, MN – The theme throughout the National Hockey League playoffs the past two springs has been “History Will Be Made.”
Well, history was made on Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.
Forward J.T. Miller, who split his childhood between East Palestine, Ohio and Coraopolis, Pa., became the highest-drafted Pittsburgh amateur hockey player in NHL Entry Draft history when the New York Rangers made him the 15th overall selection of the 2011 Entry Draft.
Prior to Miller’s selection on Friday night, the earliest that a Pittsburgh born-and-trained player was selected in the NHL Entry Draft was 10 years ago when the Vancouver Canucks made R.J. Umberger the 16th overall selection in the 2001 Entry Draft.
Miller, who spent the past two seasons with the United States National Junior Development Team program in Ann Arbor, Mich., was the first of five potential Pittsburgh kids selected.
“To be drafted first is a cool feeling,” Miller said just moments after being selected. “It’s a good group of guys and they are all going to go high.”
Miller, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, saw his stock rise dramatically during this past season with the U.S. Under-18 squad. In 48 games with the national team, Miller notched 11 goals, 26 assists and 37 points.
He saved his best work, however, for the international stage at the Under-18 World Championships this past April.
Miller, along with fellow Pittsburgh natives and 2011 Entry Draft hopefuls John Gibson and Barrett Kaib, helped lead the U.S. to a gold medal while producing a team-leading 13 points (4G-9A) and earning recognition on the tournament all-star team.
Miller credited the U.S. NTDP squad playing in the United States Hockey League as a huge reason his growth as a player accelerated this past season.
“I think it’s great that the program went into that league,” Miller said. “Everybody is going to be a lot stronger and more competitive coming out of that program, which is great.”
Miller, who entered the draft ranked 10th overall by independent scouting service Red Line Report and No. 23 overall among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, expressed surprise at being selected by the Rangers.
“I think they liked me, but there were some other teams that showed a little bit more interest (at the NHL Scouting Combine), so that’s why it was a little bit of a shock,” Miller said. “To hear my name called was breathtaking.”
While Miller was caught off guard a bit by his selection, he quickly realized one of the potential perks of being drafted by an Atlantic Division team – three yearly visits to CONSOL Energy Center when the Penguins and Rangers face off.
“It’s going to be great playing (at CONSOL Energy Center) one day,” Miller said. “Hopefully I’ll have my family coming in one day. I got to watch the Rangers a lot with them being in the same division.”
Considering his family – especially his dad – were huge Penguins fans ever since the days of Mario Lemieux and the 1991 and ’92 Stanley Cup teams, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
“My dad saw the Pens win the Cup in ’91 and ’92 and he wanted me to pick up a hockey stick,” said Miller, who was born on March 14, 1993 – almost one year after that second championship. “If they wouldn’t have won, I don’t know if I would be sitting here right now.”
Miller, who skated for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel program and the Beaver Badgers growing up, will be enrolling at the University of North Dakota in the fall.
“I’d like to be a top guy that they can rely on to product (offensively),” Miller said. “I want to be a guy who works hard like the Sioux do. Hopefully there it’s going to be a great experience for me.”
Speaking of great experiences, Miller predicted that many more players from the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system are going to have the chance to see all their dreams realized at the draft, much like his were on Friday.
“I think more and more players are going to come out of there just like this year.”WATCH: MILLER DISCUSSES MAKING HISTORY AFTER BEING SELECTED 15TH OVERALL BY THE NEW YORK RANGERS -