The Rangers were right about J.T. Miller, but do they know it?
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Heading into the season, one of the most important questions facing the New York Rangers was whether 22-year-old J.T. Miller could sufficiently elevate his game to help fill the offensive void caused by the retirement of Martin St. Louis and relative dearth of young offensive talent following the (disastrous) trade of Anthony Duclair. And while there is plenty of blame to go around for the Rangers’ erratic, uninspiring, and altogether strange season thus far, Miller deserves none of it.
In what has been a far too common occurrence this season, Miller was once again the Rangers best forward last night in the Rangers’ first game following the All-Star break. His two goals gave him 15 for the season, good enough for third on the team behind Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard. His 27 points are good enough for fourth on the team, behind just Zuccarello, Brassard and Rick Nash.
Miller’s point total and team rankings don’t tell the whole story, though. Consider the following: Miller is third on the team in goals scored and fourth in total points despite averaging just 14:09 of ice time per game. By way of comparison, Zuccarello is averaging 18:32 per game – approximately 30% more than Miller. Incredibly, Miller ranks eighth on the team among forwards in average time on ice, behind both Jesper Fast and Dominic Moore. In other words, Miller is putting up first or second line numbers, despite receiving third or fourth line minutes.
To be fair, Fast and Moore receive substantial time on the penalty kill – a situation in which Rangers coach Alain Vigneault simply doesn’t use Miller (not an exaggeration – Miller has been on the ice for a total of twenty seconds of shorthanded time this year). But surely someone as offensively effective and efficient as Miller would be utilized on the powerplay, right? After all, with 15 goals on 81 shots this season, Miller leads the team in shooting percentage (18%), far exceeding that of Brassard (15.3%), Derek Stepan (9.4%) and Kreider (9.1%), among others. (Rick Nash’s shooting percentage (8.1%) is only slightly higher than mine this year (0.0%), but I digress). Remarkably, though Miller ranks seventh among forwards this season in power play time on ice, having received a total of 66:04 so far. It’s not like this is a “ain’t broke don’t fix it” situation. Despite their early season success, the Rangers’ power play has tumbled to 24th in the league as of this morning. And while no one can dispute that Zuccarello (136:12), Brassard (132:20), Nash (104.34) and Stepan (91:27) deserve significant power play time, can anyone even remotely justify the disparity between Miller’s 66:04 and Kreider’s 107:00? Better yet, what in the world has Kevin Hayes done this season to earn his 92:31 of power play time?
On top of his offensive production, Miller has been among the team’s most physical forwards all year, and is a sneaky good fighter, when necessary. So while the Rangers and their fans continue waiting for Kreider to emerge into the power forward they deserve, Miller is emerging into the one they need. It’s Miller Time, baby. Now someone just needs to tell the Rangers.