JT MIller

Looking to make the leap: J.T. Miller


“J.T. has to figure it out and hopefully he will. When he does, we’re going to have a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be a good minor league player.

“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis. He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.”

That was Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault this past April in the wake of Miller’s sixth demotion to AHL Hartford. Miller, New York’s first-round pick (15th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, had a tough time winning over Vigneault last season (obviously) and showed signs of regression, scoring just three goals in 30 games in his second year with the Blueshirts.

Which brings us to the present — or, as Miller and the Rangers might refer to it, crunch time.

Heading into the final of his three-year, entry-level deal, Miller is at something of an organizational crossroads. Both he and the club want him established as a full-time NHLer, yet both seem to recognize there are only so many kicks at the can.

“I think we made it pretty clear to [Miller] when he left where he stands and the opportunity in front of him. You only get so many chances,” Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton told NHL.com. “I think J.T. is a pretty proud guy and a confident kid. I think he’s encouraged there’s a chance for him in the lineup. We’re all looking forward to how he comes back, but it’s all up to him.”

One positive for Miller is New York’s thinned-out depth up front, specifically at center. Brian Boyle and Brad Richards are no longer in the mix and that could provide Miller the opportunity to man the middle and utilize his playmaking skills — remember, the former OHL Plymouth standout was a good setup man for the U.S. gold medal-winning squad at the ’13 World Juniors, leading the team with seven assists in seven games.

(Miller, who’s played a bunch of left wing, could also benefit from Benoit Pouliot’s departure to Edmonton.)

One negative for Miller, though, is how New York addressed those departures. The Rangers built forward depth through a number of low-cost veteran signings — Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, Chris Mueller, Matthew Lombardi — which makes for crowded competition. What’s more, Miller must keep an eye on another pair of prospects that have made positive impressions on the organization: Jesper Fast and Danny Kristo, the latter of who inked a one-year extension with the Rangers on Tuesday.

The wildcard in all this? Vigneault. He forged a reputation in Vancouver as a coach that prefers experienced, veteran guys that make “high-percentage plays” rather than younger players still figuring things out. He’s also put players on blast before, notably Pouliot — AV actually used the “kicks at the can” line to roast him last November.

“I’ve had this conversation with Ben, I’ve had this conversation with a few players in my career. You only get so many kicks at the can here, you only get so many teams,” Vigneault told The Bergen Record. “Obviously a guy like Ben, a high pick, a high skill level, you see it now and then and you go, ‘Wow, why does the inconsistency or whatever is, not there on a more regular basis?”

While the “only get so many teams” thing doesn’t apply to Miller, the “high pick, high skill level” thing sure does. In light of that, it’ll be interesting to see if Miller responds the same way Pouliot did — after getting called out by Vigneault, the 27-year-old scored 32 points over the final 53 games of the year, potted another 10 in 25 playoff games and then scored a mega five-year, $20 million contract from Edmonton.

Canucks look to remain unbeaten on tough weekend road trip

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks were a popular preseason pick to finish the 2016-17 season as one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. Who knows, when all is said and done they still might end up closer to the basement. But for now, the Canucks are — quite surprisingly! — the NHL’s last unbeaten team thanks to a 4-0-0 start that has included a bunch of one-goal wins, including three overtime games.

Relying on overtime and come-from-behind wins every night probably isn’t the best long-term strategy when it comes to winning games, but for right now it has worked, and the wins in October count just as much as the wins later in the season.

Every point helps.

If they want to remain as the NHL’s only unbeaten team through the weekend they are going to have to do it on a tough road trip that features a set of back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Any set of back-to-back games on the road is a tough situation, especially when you are talking about two teams that have been Stanley Cup contenders in recent years as the Kings and Ducks typically are. But this weekend swing may not be as daunting as it would have first appeared when the schedule came out.

They get a Kings team on Saturday that is off to a 1-3 start and has already given up 15 goals in four games. A lot of that is due to the absence of starting goalie Jonathan Quick. Backups Jeff Zatkoff and Peter Budaj have not played particularly well in his place. They didn’t get their first win until Thursday on a controversial overtime goal against Dallas.

Then on Sunday the Canucks make a visit to Anaheim to face the Randy Carlyle-led Ducks who are only 1-3-1 through their first five games while only scoring 10 goals.

In other words: Everything seems to be going Vancouver’s way right now. They are keeping teams off the scoreboard, finding ways to win, and even when they go on their first road trip of the season they are getting a pair of teams that are struggling. If they can somehow get through this set of back-to-back games they return home for another three-game home stand against Ottawa, Edmonton and Washington. So they have a great opportunity to get off to a fantastic start.

Even Dylan Larkin is fighting for the Red Wings now

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings plays against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Something very strange has been happening in Detroit in the early parts of the 2016-17 season.

The Red Wings … are fighting. A lot.

This is a strange development because not only fighting has been rapidly decreasing across the league for several years now, but also because the Red Wings have been last in the league in fighting majors in 10 out of the past 11 seasons. The one year over that stretch they were not last (2012-13) they were 29th. Nobody fights less than these guys.

In most of those years they never even reached double digits in fighting majors, and have only had eight in each of the past two seasons.

But through the first five games this season they already have five of them, and that includes a rather stunning participant on Friday night during their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predator — 20-year-old forward Dylan Larkin, the team’s leading goal-scorer from a year ago and a top-five finisher in the Calder Trophy voting.

He dropped the gloves with Predators defenseman Yannick Weber early in the third period on Friday night.

Have a look.

According to the Hockeyfights.com database (all fighting stats listed here are via their database) that is Larkin’s first ever fight. And not just in the NHL, but apparently anywhere in hockey. He seemed to handle himself quite well. But let’s be honest, the Red Wings probably do not want to see the guy that is probably their best offensive player risking injury to drop his gloves and fight somebody.

As mentioned above, the Red Wings already have five fighting majors this season a number that currently leads the NHL. No other team in the NHL has more than three.

When it comes to their actual play on the ice the Red Wings have now won three games in a row after the starting the season 0-2.

They received a little bit of extra help late in the third period on Friday when protecting a one-goal lead they were given a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play in large part because of Predators forward James Neal taking one of the worst penalties of the season when he cross-checked Alexey Marchenko after the play.

Neal’s teammate, Calle Jarnkrok, was already penalized on the play for high-sticking Darren Helm. Those two penalties pretty much ended whatever comeback hopes Nashville had on the night as Helm ended up scoring a power play goal with 22 seconds to play.

Blue Jackets call up Sonny Milano from AHL

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Sonny Milano #22 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates in his first NHL game against the the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 31, 2016 in New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Blkue Jackets 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Immediately after earning their first win of the season — a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks — the Columbus Blue Jackets made a roster move by calling up one of their top prospects, forward Sonny Milano, from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League.

To make room for Milano on the roster the Blue Jackets sent Oliver Bjorkstrand down to the AHL.

The 20-year-old Milano was the Blue Jackets’ first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2014 NHL draft. He spent most of the 2015-16 season playing for Lake Erie (now Cleveland) during their Calder Cup winning season, recording 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) during his first full season of pro hockey. He also added another eight points (four goals, four assists) during the Calder Cup playoffs.

His 2015-16 season also included a brief cup of coffee in the NHL with the Blue Jackets where he appeared in three games and recorded one assist near the end of the seasonHe had one goal in two games with Cleveland to start this season..

Milano is a highly skilled player that can do some pretty incredible things with the puck and should bring a little bit of excitement to a team that could really use some fresh talent up front.

Trevor van Riemsdyk could be out ‘for a bit’ for Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05:  Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It turned out to be a tough Friday night for the Chicago Blackhawks in Columbus.

Not only did they lose the game to the Blue Jackets, 3-2, thanks to another rough night for their penalty killing unit, but they also lost a defenseman to injury.

Trevor van Riemsdyk had to leave the game in the first period with what was described as an upper body injury when he crashed into the net. After the game coach Joel Quenneville said that van Riemsdyk could be “out for a bit” due to the injury, via Eric Lear of Blackhawks TV. He appeared in all 82 games for the Blackhawks a year ago and played nearly 20 minutes a night.

Before Friday he had appeared in only one game this season, while his name had been being mentioned in trade rumors. With van Riemsdyk getting back into the lineup on Friday there had been some speculation that it could make veteran defenseman Brian Campbell a healthy scratch, but the Blackhawks instead opted to dress seven defensemen. Even with the injury to van Riemsdyk, Campbell only played 12 minutes on Friday.

In other Blackhawks injury news, Quenneville said that injured forward Marian Hossa — who did not play on Friday — is questionable for the Blackhawks’ game on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.