Day 2 Rangers Camp: Miller and Staal have motivation


Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) and Marc Staal (18) embrace after their 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

On the second day of training camp, a couple of key Rangers discussed their potential roles for the upcoming season.

Most notably, J.T. Miller and Marc Staal. Both are going to be used differently by a coaching staff that includes new assistant Lindy Ruff added to bench boss Alain Vigneault, assistant Scott Arniel and goalie guru Benoit Allaire.

For Miller, who enters his fifth season, the 24-year old American is being asked to shift from the wing to center. Originally drafted as a center with the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, it’s a challenge the versatile forward welcomes. Down below, he spoke to MSG’s Amanda Borges about the change:

If the team is to be successful this season, they’ll need more from Miller. A strong skater who is effective on the forecheck, he is good at winning board battles and possesses the ability to both finish and set up teammates. Last season, he matched a career best with 22 goals while recording a new high 34 assists along with 56 points over a full 82 games.

While the consensus is that Miller could be better suited on the wing where Vigneault has preferred to use him, the Palestine, Ohio native is familiar with playing center. He’s seen shifts periodically and fared well on face-offs in limited duty. Either way, he’s looking to become more of a leader.

Staal enters his 11th year. It’s hard to believe he’s now a 30-year old veteran who could see his ice-time dwindle. Who can ever forget as a rookie, him beating Martin Brodeur to win Game 4 of the first round series late in regulation? I was there. What a moment! God. Was it really that long ago? I feel old. šŸ˜

No doubt injuries have been a factor in the admirable alternate captain’s deterioration. Some shifts, he’s fine winning the battles in the corners and working the puck out of harm’s way. Other shifts, it’s an adventure due to him slowing down. Similar to former teammate Dan Girardi, speed can give Staal fits. It’s when he becomes hesitant that things can get dicey.

Even if his role is changing to more of a third pair defenseman who is still very effective on the penalty kill, the former 2005 first round pick taken 12th overall in the Crosby Draft doesn’t plan on going anywhere. Signed thru 2021 with an average cap hit of $5.7 million, it could become a numbers game down the road. Much depends on the health of the highly respected locker room leader. Vigneault hinted that it won’t be easy this camp with stiff competition coming from Anthony DeAngelo along with prospects Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk and Alexei Pereglazov.

Undeterred, Staal is focused on retaining a top six role on a revamped back end that features Kevin Shattenkirk. He was pretty candid in assessing the situation with Borges. She also got input from GM Jeff Gorton, who showed his appreciation.

Also included above is Henrik Lundqvist at the back end. The affable 35-year old is still viewed by Gorton and teammates as one of the best goalies in the league. He knows he’ll have to earn that status following an off year.

Finally, a quick look at the future. 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil has some fun at the end of practice sniping to chuckles:

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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