DRAFT

California becoming puck country

Devils' Miller proof of hockey's growth in Golden State

Friday, 06.25.2010 / 9:41 PM ET / Draft
By Eric Marin
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California becoming puck country
Miller on Draft day, 2006.
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LOS ANGELES – This year, for the first time in its history, the National Hockey League held an Entry Draft in California. Devils’ prospect T.J. Miller, a California native, couldn't resist coming out to the Staples Center in Los Angeles to take it all in.

“I was just showing my wife what I went through in Vancouver four years ago,” Miller said during Friday's first round. He recalled how the Draft day experience can be an emotional time for a young prospect.

“It’s pretty intense,” said the Devils' fourth-round pick, 107th overall, in 2006. “Sitting there in the seats, it’s nerve-wracking, especially when there’s a team up there that you’ve been talking to. You just want to hear your name called. You hope it goes well for you.”

Miller, 23, hails from Placentia, Calif., roughly a half-hour away from downtown Los Angeles. (It’s worth noting that Google Maps advises the drive can take close to two hours in traffic, and if this year’s trip to the Entry Draft has proven anything, it’s that there’s always traffic in L.A.) He’s proof of hockey’s growth in this area known more for picture-perfect weather than frosty ice rinks.

But maybe it’s time that perception changed. There were eight California-born players ranked by Central Scouting in 2010. Not coincidentally, many of them grew up watching hockey during Wayne Gretzky’s tenure with the Los Angeles Kings.

“Obviously, the ‘Gretzky Effect’ had a lot to do with it,” Miller said. “That’s what got me started. After that, as the Gretzky generation got older, my younger brothers, they got into it, too, which is good. Hockey’s going pretty good out here.”

In California, where there’s no shortage of sun, sand and surf, the path to becoming an NHL prospect often begins on wheels.

“It’s kind of different out here because obviously you get started with roller hockey; it’s a lot more inexpensive,” Miller explained. “Playing ice hockey out here is not cheap. Once you get into the hockey community, people are playing ice hockey while you’re playing roller hockey, and then you eventually make the switch. That’s how I did it growing up. It is something that you have to push your parents into because it’s a big investment.”

So hockey culture is gathering steam in the Golden State, though no one would compare it to the traditional hotbeds in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Not yet, anyway.

“It’s not as big as, obviously, most parts [of the country], but it’s growing and it’s grown significantly since I’ve been away for college,” Miller said. “It’s getting big.”

Speaking of big, Miller, a 6-4, 230 lb. blueliner, is coming off of a productive senior year at Northern Michigan. He tallied a career-best 15 points (4g-11a) in 39 games as the Wildcats finished fourth in the CCHA and reached the title game before narrowly losing to Michigan.

“Playing healthy for a year, that helped,” he said. “I did have a good year, I thought – solid. Northern, in general, had a good year, made it to the tournament for the first time in quite a few years, which helps everybody on the team through the exposure of moving on through the different rounds.”

With Devils team personnel in L.A. this week, Miller took a fitness test on Thursday. He was satisfied with his results, which he said improved from four years ago. He’ll be attending next month’s rookie camp at Prudential Center.

“I’ve been around [the organization] for a while," he said. "This will be my third prospect camp. I know all the guys there; they’re all great guys and it’s a good hockey family to be a part of.”

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59