- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

When the Washington Capitals opened training camp 19 days ago, Kip Miller was the left wing on the top line alongside five-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr and sweet-passing center Michael Nylander.

But during yesterday’s practice, Miller skated on the fourth line with rookie Boyd Gordon and second-year center Brian Sutherby, who were 6 and 8 years old, respectively, when Miller was named the NCAA’s top player in 1990.

The inability to convince even his admirers that he belongs with the big boys is the story of Miller’s career. His 52 NHL games during his first two pro seasons were 14 more than he played in during the next six years.

Miller was Pittsburgh’s fourth-leading scorer in the 1999 playoffs but was shipped to Anaheim midway through the next season. He led the 2002 New York Islanders with four playoff goals but wasn’t retained, leading his former minor league coach, Bruce Cassidy, and his ex-Penguins teammate, Jagr, to urge the Caps to sign him. Despite playing the last 10 games plus the playoffs with an injured left hand that’s still not 100 percent, Miller had career highs of 38 assists and 50 points last year, and Jagr can’t understand why the Caps don’t appreciate his talents.

“Kip is very smart, very quick,” Jagr said. “He has very good hands, and he can score. Too bad [the Caps] don’t see that.”

Miller, in his eighth organization at age 34, is just rolling with the punches, so to speak.

“I know I can still play, and [the Caps] know that, too,” Miller said. “But I also know that it’s time to see if young kids like [19-year-old Alex] Semin can play. He’s a really good player, and they have to decide whether to keep him or send him back to Russia.

“I’m at my best when I’m creating chances [on a top line], but I’ll fit in wherever they want me. The fourth line is the way it started for me here last year and probably where I’ll start this year, but you never know where I’ll end up. Things change throughout the year.”

Although just 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds, Miller — the younger brother of former Caps defensive forward par excellence Kelly Miller — came out of Michigan State with plenty of promise. But when he didn’t produce much for dreadful Quebec and Minnesota teams during his first two NHL seasons, Miller was written off as too small.

“You can get labeled in this league pretty quickly,” Miller said. “I used to always hear that if I couldn’t make it on the top two [offensive-minded] lines, I couldn’t play in this league. I became a depth guy who teams thought could help their young guys in the minors. Every year I would get five or 10 NHL games when someone got hurt. It was very frustrating because I knew I was good enough to play in this league. When Pittsburgh finally put me in as a grinder [in 1999-2000], that’s how I got jump-started.”

But even after reviving his career with the Penguins, Miller thought his NHL days were over in the fall of 2001 when he didn’t get invited to a training camp. He wound up re-signing to play for Cassidy with Grand Rapids of the International Hockey League.

“Kip sees the ice as well as anyone I’ve coached,” Cassidy said. “He can play left wing, center or right wing. He’s very versatile. He can play on the first line or the fourth line, but to stay a first-liner, Kip has to bring that intensity every night. There are some nights when you’re playing a team like Philly that you may need a bigger body to go the net. That’s why we’re trying [6-1, 227-pound] Mike Grier there. If Kip doesn’t play with Jags for a week or a month, they’re not going to lose that chemistry. Kip will be on our club.”

Notes — All 30 players skated yesterday, the first time the Caps have had a fully healthy roster in more than two weeks. With Grier taking Miller’s spot on the top line, Semin skated with Robert Lang and Dainius Zubrus on the second line. … Cassidy replaced Josef Boumedienne with Joel Kwiatkowski as All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar’s partner, with Boumedienne slipping to the extra pair with Rick Berry. …

Philadelphia is at MCI Center tonight for the sixth of Washington’s eight preseason games. The teams squared off in a fight-filled game Sept.20 in London, Ontario, with the Flyers winning 4-2. … All 30 NHL teams had to submit their 20 protected players (18 skaters, 2 goalies) to the league yesterday in preparation for Friday’s waiver draft.

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