Rangers impressed with No. 1 pick Miller

Canada defenseman Scott Harrington and U.S. forward JT

Canada defenseman Scott Harrington and U.S. forward JT Miller tangle during the first period of a world junior hockey championships game in Edmonton, Alberta. (Dec. 31, 2011) (Credit: AP)

The Rangers are looking forward to Miller time. J.T. Miller, that is.

Jonathan Tanner Miller, born in East Palestine, Ohio, could eventually join the growing number of young Americans in the lineup on Broadway. On the current roster, there are seven: Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer and Stu Bickel.

The team's No. 1 prospect, Chris Kreider, is a Massachusetts native playing at Boston College and will be ready to turn pro this summer. Then there is Miller, the team's first pick in the draft last June and the No. 15 overall selection who chose to play for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers rather than attend the University of North Dakota.

"He has Tonelli-type tenacity," Gordie Clark, the team's director of player personnel, said, referring to the Islanders' power forward and four-time Stanley Cup winner John Tonelli. "Mike Richards is another good comparison, although Richards probably scores more. J.T. is a playmaker who finishes every check. He doesn't have that beautiful stride like [Marian] Gaborik. He beats you by outworking you."

Among his 40 points in 38 games in Plymouth, Miller -- 6-1, 200 pounds -- has 27 assists, but possesses an NHL shot, Clark said. "Ten of his 13 goals are like highlights; he really rips it. He plays like a center, but has played all three positions in Plymouth."

Miller, 18, was leading the Whalers, who are in second place in the Western Conference, in points before missing seven games while representing Team USA in the World Junior Championships. "He had a great start but didn't have a great World Juniors [2-2-4 in six games] on an underachieving U.S. team," Clark said. "The coaching staff really felt he was consistent, along the boards and in winning battles."

Earlier, he led the gold-medal winning U.S. team in scoring at the World Under-18 Championship, amassing 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in six games.

Miller signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Rangers last July.

Most junior players have to either play in the NHL or be returned to junior, but because Miller comes out of the U.S. National Development Team program, he has the option to play in the AHL. That might be a year away.

All-Star break plans

The All-Star break begins after Tuesday night's home game against the Winnipeg Jets, and plans have been made for vacations and down time away from the game. Brandon Prust is headed for warmer climes: the Turks and Caicos. Married players tend to stay closer to home: Anton Stralman, who has three children, is thinking the Bronx Zoo and an aquarium. Mike Rupp's family will stay local, as well. "It's such a short time," he said. "During the Olympic break [2010], which was about 12 days, we went to Orlando for about eight of them." Brian Boyle, who is single, was being mysterious about his destination. "No, not Jamaica. Not Aruba. It's classified information. People will follow me around."

Heads up in warm-upsEdmonton's Taylor Hall is sporting a jagged 30-plus-stitch scar from hairline to left eyebrow after he was sliced by teammate Corey Potter's skate during a spill along the boards in pregame warm-ups Tuesday. He wasn't wearing a helmet, which the Oilers don't require.

Most teams don't, but the Rangers and Devils have mandated helmets in warm-ups for years. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello laid down the rule in 1987-88. President and GM Glen Sather mandated them when he took over the Rangers in 2000.

"When new guys arrived here, a lot of them complained, but that's the rule," a Rangers spokesman said.

The Rangers were, however, permitted to wear knit caps for warm-ups before the Winter Classic.

Rangers defenseman Jeff Woywitka, who played for the Dallas Stars, recalled, "When we were kids, we always said, 'I can't wait to skate in the NHL and go no-bucket," then you do it and you're looking around with pucks whizzing by. I always wore one in Dallas. Veterans had the choice.''

The only time he didn't wear one was once against Edmonton. "The guys hid my helmet," he said.

Some teams may be changing their stance. In the wake of the Hall incident, the Maple Leafs are reportedly mandating helmets in warm-ups and Calgary veteran Jarome Iginla has decided to strap on the bucket.

Goals against crucial

Over the past three seasons, just six teams made the Eastern Conference playoffs with goals-against averages greater than 2.80, according to hockeyanalysis.com. Considering that stat, as of Friday morning, these seven teams would be in:

Bruins 2.00

Rangers 2.02

Penguins 2.52

Canadiens 2.61

Panthers 2.71

Capitals 2.78

Devils 2.80

This season, the Senators (3.04) and Flyers (2.91) might be two teams above 2.80 who crash the party. They were in the Nos. 4 and 5 playoff spots as of Friday. Montreal was 13th.

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