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Vigneault: Miller to Start Camp at Center

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

The decisions will be made on the ice, but one that Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has already made is starting camp with J.T. Miller at center.

The 24-year-old has spent the majority of his five seasons in the NHL at wing
and is coming off a career-high 56 points in 82 games a season ago.

But the offseason trade with Arizona in June opened up a spot down the middle, and while Vigneault said there will be internal competition, that now includes Miller.

"I have told [Miller] that we're going to start him at the center position," Vigneault told reporters Thursday, the day his team reported for medical testing. "This is a good chance for us to get him some work in the middle. At some point, whether it be early on in the season, he's probably going to play a little bit of center. It happened last year, it happened the year before, so giving him that experience right off the bat is a good thing."

Vigneault has preferred Miller at wing, but said the team's depth as center right now is "on the respectable line," and that it's his job to look at all options. The coach added that Miller is no longer considered a "young player anymore," but rather one who possesses experience.

"I've got to go out and see right here early on at training camp, a guy like J.T. who has played that position before, how he looks, how he feels," Vigneault said. "He's not a young player anymore. He's a veteran player. I want to see that experience and I want to see what he can do at that position."

Vigneault does have other options at center as well, including rookie Lias Andersson, whom Vigneault was impressed by in June's development camp.

The fact that Andersson is just 18 years old? That doesn't matter in the eyes of the coach.

"Everything I saw in development camp … there's definitely a lot of upside there," Vigneault said of Andersson. "I've mentioned this many times before: for me, talent has no age. If the young man comes in and we think he can contribute to the success of our team, he's going to be here."

The addition of free agent David Desharnais gives Vigneault even more experience down the middle. The 31-year-old is entering his ninth season in the NHL, and gives Vigneault and the Rangers a pivot who can play in different roles.

On the eve of on-ice work, the Rangers' top two center positions appear to be occupied by Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. Vigneault said the organization is confident both players will be able to succeed with the added responsibilities their new roles bring.
"Tremendous amount of faith," Vigneault said when asked about his top two centers. "If we made that trade [with Arizona] it's because we had faith in [Hayes] and Mika, who were the next guys slotted."

Like Miller, Vigneault said Hayes has shed the young player tag and will be looked on to take on more of a responsibility heading into his fourth season.

"Hayesy is like J.T.; he's not a kid anymore," Vigneault said. "They're veteran players. They've got some years of experience. It's their turn. There's no excuses. We believe they can get it done and at the end of the day, they have to get it done."

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