LOS ANGELES - It may have been inevitable, but the timing was a little strange.
Forward J.T. Miller, 20, who made the Rangers' opening-night roster with Swedish rookie Jesper Fast, was assigned to AHL Hartford Saturday.
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A Rangers spokesman said management wanted Miller to get more ice time with the Wolf Pack, which opened its regular season Saturday night. With captain Ryan Callahan (offseason shoulder surgery) returning for the second game of the regular season Monday night, Miller wouldn't have gotten as much ice time as he will get in Hartford.
Miller, who scored twice in three preseason games, played 11:58 Thursday against the Coyotes in the Rangers' season-opening 4-1 loss, including 3:21 on the power play, and had one shot on goal and two attempts blocked.
Callahan, a right wing who is expected to begin his comeback on the third line, will jump right into the power play and penalty kill. But the somewhat surprising move leaves the Rangers with only one spare forward for the next four games out West.
The move to send Miller down to the minors indicates that Fast, who was replaced by Callahan on a line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt during Friday's practice in El Segundo, Calif., will drop to the fourth line, centered by Dominic Moore. Derek Dorsett and Arron Asham are the other right wings available on that trio, but Fast also is a righty.
Miller, the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft, played 26 games last season and was 2-2-4. He missed part of training camp with a sore hamstring but sealed a roster spot with a high-quality effort in Las Vegas against the Kings, whom the Rangers face in a game that counts Monday.
On Wednesday, coach Alain Vigneault said of Miller: "I see potential in that young man. Real solid skill set. Like any other young player, he needs to get better every day and have the right attitude to push him to become the best player he can be. There is upside there, and it's our job as a staff and his job as a player to work on him being the best he can be."
Notes & quotes: When Rick Nash dropped the gloves with Martin Hanzal after the Phoenix forward crushed Derek Stepan along the boards late in Thursday's game, eyebrows were raised because the power forward is known more for scoring than scraps. He had three fighting majors with Columbus in 2010, including a preseason one with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, and in 2007, he went toe-to-toe with Chicago's Jim Vandermeer. "That's something that means a lot to me," said Stepan, who thought Hanzal's hit was clean. "[Nash has] been around the league a lot longer than I have and he felt it was necessary. I'm grateful for it." But Vigneault prefers a different Nash. "As far as team respect and team awareness, I think it's real good. I need Rick, though, to play like Rick Nash, and he will. His work ethic and his attitude are real good. He's like the rest of our team; we've got to put it together."