Jason Brough

New York Rangers center J.T. Miller celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A.V. comments on Sunday’s benching of J.T. Miller


Alain Vigneault has, at times, been hard on young J.T. Miller.

You’ll recall a couple of years ago when the Rangers’ head coach said that Miller needed to “figure it out,” otherwise he’d be a “good minor-leaguer.”

Miller, now 22, has improved a lot since then, to the point he was recently among the first 16 players named to Team North America for this summer’s World Cup.

But Vigneault still has to dole out some tough love on occasion.

In Sunday’ 6-4 loss to the Islanders, Miller logged just 6:35 of ice time. In 13 shifts, he managed to finish minus-2. He only had one shift in the third.

“In an 82-game schedule, you’re going to have the odd game where it’s more challenging,” Vigneault told reporters today, per NorthJersey.com.

“J.T. is a lot like [Chris Kreider]. They’re power forwards. They’re guys that have to get in on the forecheck, utilize their body to retrieve pucks, utilize their body to protect pucks, make plays in the offensive zone. In the defensive zone they’ve got to be solid. Get a clean out. J.T.’s been a good player for us and I’m sure he’s going to play a good game tomorrow. As a hockey player, turn the page and get ready for the next game.”

The Rangers play tomorrow in Buffalo.

FYI, below are the two Isles goals that Miller was out there for, starting with Johnny Boychuk sneaking behind him to fire it home:

And here’s Boychuk, again, beating Miller to a puck along the wall:

With Scheifele and others, Winnipeg’s future at center is bright

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

Last night, it was Connor McDavid.

A few nights before, it was John Tavares.

For Jets center Mark Scheifele — the NHL’s second star of the week — matching up against the opponent’s best is becoming a regular occurrence.

And the 22-year-old has left his coach impressed.

“A guy like John Tavares is going to get some room, he’s going to get loose but to be able to balance your game, to be able to be safe out there,” Paul Maurice said, per the Winnipeg Sun. “The other thing is that there’s a minutes change. The difference between 18 and 22, especially when you’re talking about (minutes) against the best. It’s a different game for him right now and I like what he’s doing with it.”

Scheifele has been forced into a bigger role ever since veteran center Bryan Little was lost for the rest of the season with a fractured vertebrae. Little’s last game was on Feb. 18. In the Jets’ eight games since, Scheifele has eight goals and four assists, including a hat track Saturday versus Montreal.

How good Scheifele can be remains to be seen. He says he wants to be a “first-line center,” the kind that “plays against the best players and can beat the best players,” a.k.a. the kind of center that every Stanley Cup champion seems to have. (And some of them have two.)

Suffice to say, the Jets’ future down the middle looks extremely bright. Beyond Scheifele, there’s also 19-year-old Kyle Connor, currently starring for the University of Michigan. And if Connor ends up on the wing, another young center, 20-year-old Nicolas Petan, leads the Jets’ AHL affiliate in scoring with 31 points in 48 games.

Little, 28, has two years remaining on his contract, providing time for the younger generation to grow into their NHL roles.

Related: McDavid, Eichel headline ultra-talented Team North America

Suspension over: Drouin will report to AHL Syracuse

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin waits for play to resume in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they’ve lifted the suspension of forward Jonathan Drouin and that he’ll report to AHL Syracuse tomorrow morning for practice.

The announcement comes one week after the NHL trade deadline. Drouin had been hoping to be dealt to a new team, but after the deadline came and went, Lighting GM Steve Yzerman said that the door was open for Drouin to play for the organization again.

Yzerman later clarified that, if Drouin were to return this season, it would be in the AHL, not the NHL.

“If he wants to play hockey his options are to go to Syracuse,” Yzerman told 620 WDAE radio on Tuesday. “I frankly don’t expect him to want to come back. I don’t know that I’d describe it as an open invitation but, again, if he wants to play, the Syracuse Crunch are playing. That’s the only place he can play right now.”

Drouin’s return to the Crunch has upside for both parties, even if the “ship has sailed” on him ever playing for the Lightning again.

For Drouin, it’s an opportunity to play pro hockey again, as well as showcase his skills for a potential suitor. For the Lightning, assuming he stays healthy and plays reasonably well, it has the potential to help them maximize their return in an offseason trade.

Drouin turns 21 on March 28. He had two goals and one assist in seven games for the Crunch before he was suspended for failing to report to a game in January.


Sutter has belief that Scuderi ‘can still play’

Newly acquired Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi waves as the fans applaud him to welcome him back to Los Angeles, during the first period of the Kings' NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014, they had four defensemen that coach Darryl Sutter felt comfortable sending over the boards for at least 20 minutes a game.

Two of them — Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin — are still with the club.

But with Willie Mitchell in Florida now and Slava Voynov in the KHL, it will be interesting to see how Sutter doles out the ice time in the playoffs.

Alec Martinez, of course, has since graduated to receiving top-four minutes. He’s earned Sutter’s trust, based on the career-high 21:15 he’s averaged this season.

So, that’s three guys — Doughty, Muzzin, and Martinez.

After that?

Well, the coach is still getting a read on trade-deadline acquisition Rob Scuderi, the 37-year-old who played top-four minutes during the Kings’ first Stanley Cup run in 2012.

Scuderi logged 15:10 in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Anaheim.

“I mean, you want guys who are consistent,” Sutter told LA Kings Insider. “That’s what we want from Scuds. Scuds is clearly a guy that the less you notice him, the better he is, clearly. That hasn’t changed. He can still play. There were some talking about that he couldn’t play the minutes, or he couldn’t play, well, he played every game last year, he played 19 minutes and he was on a good hockey team and a plus player, and he played every playoff game.”

The counterpoint is that Scuderi has already been traded twice this year, first by Pittsburgh, then by Chicago. At some point in every athlete’s career, getting older becomes got too old.

The hope in bringing Scuderi back is that the Kings’ system will be a better match for his “smart, dependable” style, just like the hope for the Blackhawks is that Christian Ehrhoff will be a better fit for their system. Both Los Angeles and Chicago will enter the playoffs with question marks beyond their first three d-men.

Sutter’s other options beyond his Big Three are Brayden McNabb, Luke Schenn, and Jamie McBain. While Matt Greene skated the other day, there’s no timetable for his return following shoulder surgery.

Kovalchuk makes surprise return to KHL playoffs

FILE - In this May 13, 2013 file photo, Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates his goal during the 2013 Ice Hockey World Championships match against Austria in Helsinki. Kovalchuk left the New Jersey Devils and retired from the NHL, leaving $77 million on the table last summer to go back home and play in Russia. In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, Kovalchuk said he has no regrets and looks forward to helping the host country win gold next month at the Sochi Games.  (AP Photo/Lehtikuva, Jussi Nukari)  FINLAND OUT

Ilya Kovalchuk is back in SKA Saint Petersburg’s lineup today, and is reportedly “trying very hard” against Dynamo Moscow.

The 32-year-old former NHL star was benched for all but the opening game of SKA’s first-round series defeat of Lokomotiv. He missed four games total.

Though Kovalchuk has one year remaining on his contract with SKA, there has been speculation through all this that he may attempt to return to North America for next season.

Of course, even if he wanted to, returning to the NHL for next season may not be possible, so a reconciliation with SKA may be his best bet.

Related: Kovalchuk reportedly stripped of captaincy