This year, the Penguins are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first-ever Stanley Cup.
J.T. Miller wasn’t born yet when that happened, nor was he born when the Penguins won their second of back-to-back Cups in 1992.
But Miller – born less than a year later on March 14, 1993 – ultimately got started playing the game of hockey because of the residual effects those championships had on the Pittsburgh area.
“When the Pens won in ’91 and ’92, that’s when my dad started watching hockey,” Miller said. “So that’s kind of how I got started playing – my dad saw the Pens winning, so he wanted me to play because he started really getting into it. I’ve been playing ever since and I have been the biggest Pens fan ever since then.”
|Miller visited CONSOL Energy Center last week. |
The now 18-year-old Miller has come a long way since then, as he’s now one of the top-ranked prospects eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft set for June 24-25 in St Paul, Minn.
The 6-foot-2, 193-pound forward is projected as a potential first-round pick. Miller is listed as No. 23 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings while the Red Line Report, an independent scouting service, has him ranked No. 10 overall.
“I feel he is a really complete player,” said Kyle Woodlief, the chief scout and publisher of the Red Line Report. “This guy has really good size and he’s got really good natural strength in that he goes into corners against bigger defenseman and usually always comes out with the puck. He’s always winning those one-on-one battles. … He causes a lot of turnovers and havoc among defensemen with his heavy pressure. He’s a guy who uses that size to really drive hard to the net on a consistent basis. All of those things are very positive traits.”
Miller got his start with the Beaver Badgers, a AA team based out of Beaver County, Pa. – right across the state line from East Palestine, Ohio, where Miller grew up, splitting his time between there and Coraopolis, Pa., where his mom moved when he was in seventh grade.
But it soon became apparent that the young forward’s talent would be better served by playing at a higher level, which is when he joined the Pittsburgh Hornets, the area’s AAA hockey organization.
|Miller at the World Under-18 Championships. (Photo credit: Matthew Murnaghan/HHOF-IIHF Images) |
He spent five years with the Hornets, which, looking back, played a huge role in getting him to where he is now.
“I think they gave me a lot of exposure there,” Miller said. “They gave me every opportunity to be great and show off what I can do. I could show my talents in several different ways and the coaches were great.”
He gained exposure on a national level with the Hornets and got noticed by scouts with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., which boasts alumni such as Patrick Kane (Chicago) and Ryan Kesler (Vancouver).
Miller spent the last two campaigns with the USNTDP, but it’s the way he finished this last season that has people talking.
He paced Team USA in scoring at the World Under-18 Championships in Crimmitschau, Germany, producing 13 points (4G-9A) while leading the Americans to their third-straight gold medal at the tournament.
To top it off, he produced dominant efforts when his team needed them most. In the semifinals, Miller scored a goal and two assists to help the U.S. rally from a 3-1 deficit to an eventual 5-4 overtime win over Canada. He then notched a pair of helpers in the gold medal game against Sweden, again helping the Americans rally from another 3-1 deficit to win (again in overtime), 4-3.
Woodlief sees Miller going in the first round of the draft partly because of his international performances.
“You’ve got 200 NHL scouts in the stands watching the games at the World Under-18s, so it’s certainly going to have a boosting effect on his draft stock,” Woodlief said. “But over and above that, I think his game really started to turn up in February too, when he was an outstandingly strong player for the U.S. team at the Five Nations tournament over in the Czech Republic. I think that really started to turn his season upward.
|Miller with the USNTDP. (Photo credit: Tom Sorensen) |
"So between the big performance in the February tournament and the really strong performance in April, he’s gotten so much exposure to NHL scouts at those two major tournaments that I can’t see any way he gets below the late teens to early 20s (in the draft).”
While Miller is pleased with the way his season ended, he still isn’t done making an impact on those who will help shape his hockey career.
He plans to start with making a good impression at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, Ontario, which began Monday and goes through Saturday.
He also wants to carry his momentum from last season into both making the U.S. squad for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships, which will be held at the end of this year in Calgary and Edmonton, and having a strong freshman year at the University of North Dakota.
“Finishing on a strong note like that, I feel like I can carry it to the next level and keep that confidence going and try to start the year like I finished it,” Miller said.
But regardless of what happens in the near future for Miller, he’s sure to continue representing the Steel City with his fellow Pittsburgh-area prospects.
“Hopefully we can keep it going by just having these good players putting Pittsburgh on the map,” he said.WATCH
– J.T. MILLER'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PENSTV: