MINNEAPOLIS -- J.T. Miller was clearly on the radar of NHL scouts before April, but the Ohio native -- who grew up a Penguins fan after moving to Coraopolis, a Pittsburgh suburb -- opened eyes at the under-18 World Championships in Germany.
That included Rangers scouts, who were so impressed by his team-high 13 points for the gold-medal squad that the Blueshirts made Miller the first American selected in Friday night's entry draft and No. 15 overall.
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"I had a pretty consistent season, but I don't think I could have capped it off any better," said Miller, who is verbally committed to the University of North Dakota. "It all clicked for me."
The 6-1, 198-pound playmaker was the No. 3 scorer in the U.S. National Team Development program, recording 11 goals and 26 assists in 48 games against United States Hockey League competition.
"There was no one [available at 15] that had all the qualities that J.T. had,'' Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. "There could be someone who will score more goals, there could be somebody that's going to be a faster skater, but if you want to put size, with skating, with character, with grit, with work ethic, with playmaking ability, and scoring ability, no one had all those qualities in their game. He had them all.''
While Miller compares his energetic style to the Penguins' Chris Kunitz, Clark said "he's like a Dubi [Brandon Dubinsky], Mike Richards. Every shift, he expends everything he's got . . . He started coming up in a lot of the rankings from April because he was really one of the best players in the tournament in April . . . He validated what we had seen all year.''
Being selected by the Rangers, Miller said, "came as a bit of a shock. I only met with them once, and other teams seemed to show more interest. I got to watch the Rangers play the Penguins a lot, but I won't be rooting for the Penguins anymore."
NHL Central Scouting ranked Miller 23rd among North American forwards and defensemen, but a number of teams, including the Rangers, had him higher on their boards.
"Throughout the year, I think he was good,'' Penguins director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And then he brought his game to another level in Germany, and I think he caught the attention of a lot of other organizations.''
Just before the pick, Clark and the Rangers spoke of the loss of Derek Boogaard, the former Wild forward who died of a toxic mix of painkillers and alcohol on May 13 in his apartment here in town. When the applause ended, Boogaard's brother, Aaron, announced the selection of Miller.