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.

Rangers park Boyle, Stalberg in press box for Thanksgiving Showdown

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven
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I’m not going to make the “it really is Black Friday for Dan Boyle and Viktor Stalberg” joke, but had to recognize it as a semi-viable lede.

So that’s out of the way.

Now, onto the business at hand — per the New York Daily News, Boyle and Stalberg will be scratched today when the Rangers take on the Bruins in the annual Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m. ET, NBC). Dylan McIlrath will draw in on defense for Boyle, while Emerson Etem will take Stalberg’s spot up front.

It’s not really surprising Alain Vigneault made some lineup changes.

The Blueshirts’ last outing was arguably their worst of the season — a 5-1 home loss to the Canadiens, a game in which Boyle finished minus-2 and Stalberg played the least among all Rangers skaters, with just 11:20 TOI.

More: Dan Boyle isn’t thrilled with all these healthy scratches

What’s more, McIlrath hasn’t played in nearly two weeks (Nov. 15, versus Toronto). It’s been even longer for Etem — he’s been out of the lineup since a win over the Blues on Nov. 12.

Related: Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC

Goal-starved Flyers recall AHL Phantoms leading scorer Cousins

Nazem Kadri

Desperate for offense, Philly made a fairly noteworthy move on Friday — Nick Cousins has been brought up from the minors.

Cousins, 22, has been a solid scorer at the AHL level in each of the last two seasons. He led Lehigh Valley with 56 points in 64 games in ’14-15 and, this year, has 18 through 15 — putting him in a tie for seventh in league scoring.

The former OHL Sault Ste. Marie standout does have some NHL experience, having played 11 games for the Flyers last season. He averaged just under nine minutes per game over that span, and failed to register a point.

Looking ahead, Cousins could make his season debut today, when Philly hosts the Preds. Right now it’s unclear where he’d fit in the lineup.

To make room for Cousins on the roster, the Flyers sent Taylor Leier down to the Phantoms.


NHL on NBC Doubleheader: Rangers vs. Bruins; ‘Hawks vs. Ducks

Rick Nash, Ryan Spooner
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After a break in the schedule on Thursday, the NHL is back with a full slate of games on Friday.

It all gets underway at 1:00 p.m. ET when the Rangers take on the Bruins on NBC.

Boston is coming off a 3-2 OT win over Detroit on Wednesday night to extend their winning streak to four games.

Although backup Jonas Gustavsson has been between the pipes for two of the four wins, there’s no denying that Tuukka Rask‘s improved play is a big reason for Boston’s turnaround.

The 28-year-old is 4-2-0 in his last six starts and he’s given up 13 goals (five came in one game against the Sharks) during that span.

The Bruins have won each of their last two home games, but are still just 4-6-1 at the TD Garden this season.

New York didn’t go into the Thanksgiving break the way they had hoped.

The Rangers are coming off a 5-1 loss, on home ice, to the Montreal Canadiens.

Henrik Lundqvist was pulled for the first time all season after he allowed five goals on 24 shots.

The 33-year-old’s rough outing was presumably just a blip on the radar, as he comes into this game with a 12-4-2 record, a 1.94 goals-against-average and a .939 save percentage.

New York currently sits atop the Metropolitan division with 34 points.

At 5:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN will broadcast the rematch of last year’s Western Conference final between the Ducks and ‘Hawks.

After a brutal month of October that saw them win just one of their 10 games, the Ducks have been slightly better in November.

Anaheim opened the month with a four-game winning streak only to drop their following three games. They’ve alternated wins and losses in their last eight contests.

Ryan Getzlaf has six points in his last two games (all assists), but it’s clear that the Ducks need more from him.

The 30-year-old has always been a pass-first player, but one goal in 19 games just isn’t cutting it.

A guy who’s having no trouble finding the back of the net is ‘Hawks forward Patrick Kane.

The 27-year-old comes into this game with 13 goals and 34 points in 22 games in ’15-16.

He’s riding a 17-game point streak and has found his name on the scoresheet in all but two games this season.

Chicago currently sits in fourth place in the Central division.


New York Rangers at Boston Bruins, 1 p.m. ET, NBC

Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN

For online viewing information via NBC Sports’ Live Extra, click here.

PHT Morning Skate: General Managers around the league are happy for Bergevin

Marc Bergevin
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

The Montreal Canadiens gave Marc Bergevin a contract extension on Wednesday and fellow General Managers around the league are happy for their colleague. (TSN)

Are the Washington Capitals the best team in the Eastern Conference? (ESPN)

Here’s a funny cartoon depiction of the reported feud between Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby:

Read an excerpt from Tie Domi’s book “shift work”. In this portion of the book, he talks about some crazy times at a New York City nightclub. (ESPN)

“It’s a lot more complicated than the net and the goalie equipment, it’s the systems that teams play, the willingness of players to block shots every part of their body.” Steven Stamkos weighs in on the decreasing number of goals in the NHL. (Tampa Tribune)

After the first quarter of the season, Henrik Lundqvist is NHL.com’s favorite to land the Vezina Trophy. (NHL.com)

Matt Beleskey donated 400 pies to various charitable organizations around Boston.