Rangers forward J.T. Miller said he came to camp more mature and in better condition. He wasted little time impressing on Monday night when he assisted on the Rangers’ first two goals in the team’s 5-4 loss to New Jersey in its preseason opener at Madison Square Garden.
The 21-year-old looked strong from the start centering a line with Carl Hagelin and Ryan Bourque, as well as on the power play with Ryan Malone and Chris Mueller. Miller finished with an even rating, one hit and was eight of 18 in the faceoff dot in 14:26 of ice time.
“I feel better,” Miller said after the game. “Obviously my priority tonight was to win the game. Kind of [stinks] the way it ended. Personally, I feel better but you like to win.”
Miller found the scoresheet when he assisted on Hagelin’s goal at 4:43 of the first period that cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1.
The Rangers knotted the score later in the first when Miller fed Malone with a pretty slot pass while up a man. Miller carried the puck below the circles and hit Malone from five feet out, who beat Devils netminder Scott Clemmensen.
“I was kid of licking my chops and hoping [Miller] saw me over there [for the pass],” Malone said of his first period goal. “I thought he played really well tonight, on both ends, creating plays. He had a big block out there too on the second. There was that Pittsburgh connection out there, so that was a nice play by him and it was nice to finish it off for him.”
Miller has stated his approach to this year’s camp is in stark contrast to his approach entering last season. The results have been evident, as he began the week with a strong intra-squad scrimmage on Sunday morning before Monday’s impressive outing.
“I just tried to play normal hockey, prepare yourself as much as you can for camp and the regular season,” Miller said of his approach to camp and the preseason. “You still have to play. It took a while to catch on, first game in a long time. I felt good. It was obviously the first game of the year. It wasn’t the smoothest for anybody, but it was OK.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he was pleased with the way the young forward played in his first game since the Eastern Conference Final.
“I thought J.T. had some good moments,” Vigneault said. “You obviously can see the skill set. I thought he was battling hard on the puck. He made a couple real nice plays, so for a first exhibition game, a chance to see him in the middle, I thought he did some good things.”
Miller is one of a handful of players — along with Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo and Matt Lombardi to name a few — in the running for a spot on the third line at either center or wing.