On September 11, 2013, a new mantra was introduced by incoming bench boss Alain Vigneault that gave the players a sense of what was to come. That mantra was "clean slate, grab it." In other words, each player was given a new opportunity, and nothing that happened under John Tortorella would matter.
Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, forward J.T. Miller must embody that mentality as he fights for his job and a future with the New York Rangers.
To date, Miller has been between Hartford (the club's AHL affiliate) and New York at a rapid pace, and he needs to block that out. He also needs to block out the past criticisms from his head coach. Back in April, Miller was the subject of scrutiny, and Vigneault had some harsh words.
Via Larry Brooks of the New York Post: "'He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis,' Vigneault said before the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout defeat to the Avalanche on Thursday night. 'He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.'"
The Blueshirts' bench boss later revisited those comments and softened his stance when Miller was given another shot with the Rangers.
"I would say those comments might have been interpreted by you as pointed," Vigneault said. "I would say to you that 95 percent of young players have to figure it out. They get help from coaches -- their minor-league [coaches] and they get help from their NHL coaches. Until they figure it out, they’re either gonna figure it out and become good NHL players, or they’re not and they’re going to be good minor-leaguers."
To this point—in the words of Vigneault—Miller has been a good minor leaguer. At 19, he contributed 23 points in 42 games. Last season, he tallied 43 points in 41 games as a 20-year-old forward.
When he made the jump to the NHL this past season, he tallied three goals and three assists in 30 games.
Miller was better defensively than he was the year before, but there were still some holes in his game. He also showed some offensive flashes, but at times it seemed that Miller thought he was still a member of the Plymouth Whalers.
Miller would try to pull off grandiose stick work against NHL-caliber defenders, and to the surprise of no one, he was stopped dead in his tracks. No one can blame a hotshot kid for trying to put one over on a defender, but if Miller is going to make the roster this season, he needs to bring his A-game in camp.
The 2011 first-round draft choice has spent time at both center and wing, but this season the wing is pretty much accounted for.
The center-ice position is as well, but there is more wiggle room there. If Miller can show that he is better defensively, more mature physically and competent offensively, he could make the opening-night roster over someone like Matthew Lombardi or Oscar Lindberg.
The drop from the top six to the bottom six is steep in terms of offensive acumen, but the blow could be softened if Miller can be a mainstay on the roster. Right now, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard are the top two centers, and both are offensively capable. Having Miller third in line would be a major plus.
Here's a look at what Miller was capable of doing offensively last year:
If he can bring this to the table in a third-line role, the Rangers could be in good shape. Ideally, Miller is a player who projects to be similar in stature to former captain Ryan Callahan, so making the roster this season in a third-line role would put him ahead of the game.
Training camp will tell a lot about Miller, and it has been a long time since team brass has seen him play. A right arm injury knocked him out of the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see if Miller comes into camp stronger.
He is currently 6'1" and 205 pounds, but The Hockey News states that he needs to "get bigger and physically stronger in order to excel at playing his in-your-face style at the highest level."
The publication's website reaffirms the notion that he is a "talented and versatile scoring forward with good upside," and that description sums up what Callahan used to be for the Rangers.
This season should be a great opportunity for the 21-year-old native of East Palestine, Ohio, and hopefully he can embrace the "clean slate, grab it" mentality.
If he doesn't, it will be interesting to see if he spends the majority of this season in the minors or becomes the Blueshirts' next biggest trade asset in a potential deal to bolster the makeup of the roster.
Only time will tell, but it is clear that all want Miller to succeed and make a difference with the Rangers this season.