With the New York Rangers making some big changes this off season, J.T. Miller needs to be one of the rocks on the team. Can he lead the Blueshirts back to a Stanley Cup Finals?Back in the 2011 NHL Draft, the NEw York Rangers made Johnathan Tanner Miller the 15th overall pick. A product of USA Hockey’s National Team development program, Miller was a star in the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championships, scoring 13 points (4 G, 9 A) in six games. Not only did he lead Team USA to a gold medal, but he was voted the top U.S. player in the tournament by coaches.
Miller spent the next two seasons bouncing between Hartford, CT and New York.
He made his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 5, 2013, and scored his first two NHL goals against the New York Islanders two days later. At age 19, Miller became the first Rangers rookie to have a multi-goal game since Alex Kovalev in December 1992.
He made the team out of camp in the 2014-15 season but was sent back to Hartford after only three games, not to be seen again until November. He’d finish the year with the big club, scoring 23 points (10 G, 13 A) in 58 games.
He added nine points over 19 games in the playoffs that year. Four of those points (one goal, three assists) came against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. He joined Derick Brassard and Rick Nash as the only Rangers to score at least four points in an elimination game since Mark Messier did it in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey.
Miller is entering his sixth season with the Rangers. He’s played in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons. The 2016-17 campaign was his best yet, as he put up a career-best 56 points (22 G, 34 A) while recording a plus-17 rating. Respectable numbers, for sure.
Respectable numbers, for sure. But he struggled badly in the second-half of the season, going through a 12-game stretch that saw him record just three assists. With Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and former Ranger Derek Stepan struggling as well, things got tough for the Rangers, even though they ended the season with 102 points.
With the team lacking a high power offensive threat, the 24-year-old, 6′ 1″, 206-pound forward needs to take charge. He’s got plenty of regular season and playoff experience. This should be the year that he become’s one of the team’s leaders, on and off the ice.
While there’s been talk of having Miller fill the void at center, head coach Alain Vigneault isn’t a fan of the idea. “At some point, he [Miller] might play center,” Vigneault told the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks, “but I’m not sure about starting the season that way.”
Miller’s versatility is a huge asset to the team. He can play any forward position and is an asset on both the power play and the penalty kill. His speed gives him the ability to be strong defensively on the puck which makes him an excellent back-checker. Fearless, Miller will battle any opponent and often gets into scrums standing up for his teammates.
If there’s a downside to his play, it’s that he can be inconsistent. We saw it late last season, as he looked lost on the ice and wound up demoted to the fourth line for a bit. For Miller to lead this team, he must be more consistent.
Miller is in an excellent position to realize his potential. The time has come for him to step up and lead this team. Anything less than an explosive 2017-18 season would be a disappointment.