NEW YORK -- New York Rangers veteran center Brad Richards described his linemate, 21-year-old prospect J.T. Miller, as “fearless.” Before he was given the axe, former Rangers coach John Tortorella often referenced the kid’s “swagger.”
Miller is not the typical bright-eyed, nervous rookie. In fact, his confidence has gotten him into trouble at times, as he has bounced between the big club and the American Hockey League with frequency the past two seasons. But that sort of unapologetic mentality also was what helped Miller attack Sunday’s game with verve and decisiveness as he made his playoff debut in the Rangers Game 5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and finished the day with the Broadway Hat as a result.
“He’s had ups and downs this season,” Richards said, “But he’s resilient and hopefully he can build on that.”
Miller recorded his first point of the Stanley Cup playoffs when he picked up a primary assist on Richards’ second-period marker. He provided energy and speed and was strong on the puck, playing on a line with Richards and Carl Hagelin.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told Miller Saturday there was a chance he may get a shot in Game 5. When he arrived at Madison Square Garden at approximately 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning, he received the final nod.
Miller replaced Daniel Carcillo in the lineup and finished with an assist and a plus-2 rating in 10:22 of ice time.
“I thought he played well. He brought us a good skill level,” said Vigneault, who was critical of the young forward earlier in the year, questioning his “commitment” during Miller’s last recall from the minors.
Summoned from the AHL for another shot before the playoffs began, Miller has made it a point to keep his head down and remain ready for exactly this type of opportunity. When he got the call, he just tried to keep his focus sharp.
“Anxious,” Miller said of the emotions heading into first NHL playoff match. “Not as much nervous as anxious.”
That didn’t surprise his teammates, who have taken notice that Miller isn’t the type to shy away from a tough situation.
“He had a lot of energy. He held onto pucks and made plays. He’s fearless. He has that type of mentality. You can kind of predict that this wasn’t going to overwhelm him because he has that type of character,” said Richards, a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and veteran of 98 playoff games. “It was a good first game in the playoffs for him to jump in. He played big minutes and played an important role.”