Just over a year ago, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault offered the following, candid assessment of J.T. Miller:
“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis. He needs more commitment. There needs to be more commitment from his part on the ice and off the ice, and until there is, he hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis.
“It’s part of any young player going through the process of being an NHL player. You’ve got to figure it out, and hopefully he will, and when he does, we’ll have a good player. And if he doesn’t figure it out, he’ll be a good minor-leaguer.”
Well, fast forward to the present, one day after Miller racked up four points in a huge win over the Lightning, and here’s what linemate Derick Brassard had to say about the 22-year-old:
“I think his attitude has been outstanding the past two weeks. He’s been competing really hard. I think he’s energized our line. I remember last game he was trying to push me and [Rick Nash] to be better and to make a difference. He’s a guy with a really good shot, he wins a lot of pucks. He’s a really strong guy, and we need him to be really good to be successful.
“Last night it was just I think he got rewarded with all the hard work he’s been doing the past couple weeks.”
It hasn’t been an easy road to the NHL for the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2011, and he’s still got some developing to do. But we all know how important it is for teams to get contributions from their young players, and with Mats Zuccarello out indefinitely, Miller has picked a great time to prove he can contribute.