I mentioned last week that Gibsonia-born NHL prospect Brandon Saad's stock had dropped over the last six months. For all of his size and goal-scoring potential, scouts are wary of Saad's lack of inclination to play physical hockey.
That shouldn't be a problem for Jonathan "J.T." Miller, a physical, two-way player destined to be taken in the first round of this year's NHL draft.
Miller was born in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, situated right along the Pennsyvania-Ohio border. He began honing his hockey skills at a young age in Western Pennsylvania, first with the Beaver Badgers and later the Pittsburgh Hornets. Around the age of 15, scouts from the United States National Hockey Team Developmental Program took notice. Soon after, Miller was named to the U17 United States National Team.
Now 18, Miller has been playing for the U18 National Team for the last two years and established himself as a top NHL prospect. A strong skater with keen defensive awareness, the only question about Miller was his scoring ability. As Rich Michalowski observed at thescoutingreport.org,
Miller’s passing and shooting abilities are at the very least solid and consistent but he does show flashes at times of high end abilities in this regard.... The knock on Miller was that when you saw him play and admired his skills, you wondered why he did not produce the numbers to match those skills.
Scouts saw the potential, and there was evidence of it lower levels. But Miller could only manage moderate success on the offensive end of the ice with the U18's.
That changed in April at the 2011 U18 World Championships.
Miller exploded, putting up 13 points in six games for the gold-medal winning U.S. team. Not only did he lead the team in scoring, but he was also named one of the top three players in the tournament for the United States (along with fellow Pittsburgh Hornets alum John Gibson). Suddenly, he was a hot commodity again.
Before the tournament, Miller's ranking fell from from 13th to 23rd in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's rankings. Now other sources, like Kyle Woodlief of the widely-respected Red Line Report scouting agency, have gone as far as to move Miller up into their top 10.
Most scouts feel comfortable slotting Miller into a future NHL lineup as a second line center or possibly a high-end third line linchpin. The package is there for Miller to succeed. At 6-foot and 200 pounds and still growing, Miller is comfortable playing a physical game. Teams salivating for a Ryan Kesler clone, and they could take a flyer on him early in the draft.
Miller seems as safe a bet to reach the NHL as you'll find outside of the top five in this year's draft. The only question is, in what capacity? As a defensive-minded center or a superior, two-way product?