Miller makes Pittsburgh debut

PITTSBURGH – It has taken just 19 games for J.T. Miller’s journey in the National Hockey League to bring him back home.

Miller, a 2011 first round draft pick of the New York Rangers and former East Palestine resident played in his first game at CONSOL Energy Center in a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon in front of family and friends.

“I’m not sure about from East Palestine but I had a couple people from Pittsburgh here today,” Miller said. “There were a couple family members from Ohio here too.”

The freshly turned 20-year-old celebrated his birthday just two days earlier (March 14) in Winnipeg in a less-than-thrilling fashion. The Rangers suffered a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Jets. Saturday, the result wasn’t much better.

“It would have been nice to have a win but it’s nice to be in town close to my birthday,” Miller said. “I’ll get to see my family here in a couple minutes so that’s always nice.”

After being drafted, Miller went on to play with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and then quickly progressed to the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League. He was called up during the Rangers playoff run last year but never saw ice time.

Shortly after his promotion to the Rangers, he made quick work of getting to the score sheet. Miller needed just two games to record his first goal and became the first Ranger (rookie or otherwise) to register a multi-goal game in his Madison Square Garden debut since Chris Kontos on Jan. 3, 1983.

Miller is also the youngest Ranger (19 years, 330 days) to tally a multi-goal game since Alex Kovalev (19 years, 307 days) recorded a hat trick on Dec. 27, 1992.

Since his fast start, Miller has struggled to find consistency offensively and hasn’t recorded a point in seven games. He hasn’t found the back of the net since he potted two against the Islanders in his debut at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s tough right now when we’re not scoring a whole lot of goals,” Miller said. “We just need to start bearing down I guess and start fresh tomorrow.”

Miller recorded nine points throughout the tournament to help the United States capture the gold medal at the world junior hockey championships in January in Russia.

Once thought to be a likely candidate to be sent back to the Connecticut Whale once Rick Nash returned from injury in February, Miller was afforded more time with the big league club when the Rangers sent down Chris Kreider on Feb. 28.

Miller’s versatility as a center and wing posed more value to the club due to the lack of depth up front.

That versatility was on display Saturday afternoon as the center-by-trade skated on the right wing of a line that included Taylor Pyatt and Brian Boyle.

“It doesn’t bother me much (switching from center to wing),” Miller said. “Ultimately, if it helps the team win then it is a good thing.”

Miller was on the ice when fellow rookie Beau Bennett tallied the game’s opening goal. Just over six minutes later, Miller took the game’s first penalty after cross-checking Sidney Crosby.

“That’s how it goes, I shoved him and he fell,” Miller said of his hit on Crosby.

No harm was done as the Rangers were able to kill of the penalty. Miller finished his debut at home logging 12:20 second of ice time. He also dished out five hits, but failed to register a shot.

The snake-bitten Miller chalked it up to the ebbs and flows that he expected to encounter in the National Hockey League.

“I’m pretty hard on myself – always have been – it’s just a tough game. They’re a tough team, they’re hard to play against, it’s just a tough time right now.”