NEW YORK — A lineup change got J.T. Miller into Game 3 Monday night of the New York Rangers’ Eastern Conference second-round series.
Earlier in the series, Miller was limited to watching the games against his hometown team, skating in lightly attended optional practices, remaining on the ice longer than most of his teammates at game-day skates.
There was one small silver lining to being out of the lineup before Monday.
Saturday, while most of the Rangers had a day off in Pittsburgh, Miller went to Southpointe with a handful of teammates to practice.
“I learned to skate here when I was 2 or 3 years old,” Miller said of the Penguins’ practice facility in Canonsburg, Washington County.
This Rangers forward, who was raised in Coraopolis, didn’t have a huge impact in Game 3 — he had no points, two hits, and his two shot attempts missed the net in 11:34 of ice time in a 2-0 loss against the Penguins — but coach Alain Vigneault said Miller “brought us some good energy.”
Vigneault did not tip his hand about whether Miller will play in Game 4 tonight at Madison Square Garden. He added Miller and two other young players, winger Jesper Fast and defenseman Raphael Diaz, to the Game 3 lineup in hopes of adding a spark.
It has been an eventful spring for Miller.
A first-round draft pick, selected 15th overall by the Rangers in 2011, Miller played in his first two NHL postseason games in the first round against Philadelphia, collecting two assists. Now, he is facing the Penguins in the second.
Miller’s family apparently is a bit torn in its rooting interest for this matchup.
Asked who his relatives are pulling for, Miller said, “Me. … I’d like to think so. They wouldn’t tell me.”
After getting his start at Southpointe, Miller rose through the United States Development Program as a teenager. At the 2013 world junior championships, he made a splash, leading the team with seven assists and tying for the lead with nine points to help the United States win the gold medal.
He made his NHL debut in February 2013. He was 19. He had two goals and two assists in 26 games in the stretch run of that season.
Then, at a fairly critical time in his pro development, the Rangers fired John Tortorella and his coaching staff and replaced him with Vigneault.
“It’s different,” Miller said. “I only had a short taste last year. It probably didn’t make it easier, coming in and trying to make an impression on a new set of coaches, but they’re very good with working with us.”
And they can be tough.
This season, Miller bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL, with more games with the Hartford Wolf Pack than with the Rangers. He had three goals and three assists in 30 games with the Rangers.
“It’s a positive either way,” Miller said of the shuffling between leagues. “It’s tough getting called back and forth, but it’s a process for young players. You take it as a positive no matter what.”
When he was demoted to the AHL in early April, he got publicly scolded by Vigneault, who said Miller “hasn’t earned the right to be at this [NHL] level on a regular basis,” and that Miller “needs to show more commitment on the ice and off.”
The lesson was learned, and Miller was back for the playoffs.
“It’s a kick in the butt,” Miller said. “We’ve moved on from it. I just try to look into the future.”
In the near term, that could be more playoff games against his hometown club.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.