Head coach Alain Vigneault stating that J.T. Miller would start the preseason at center surprised some, but to him, it’s just another day at the rink.
J.T. Miller was drafted as a center in 2011 but he has seen very little time there since. Miller will now — at least for the first three preseason games — be asked to help out the team and transition from wing to center.
“I just want to do what’s best for the team, and if that’s playing down the middle then let’s do that, if I can do well at it,” Miller told Matt Calamia of NHL.com. “I know the coaches are going to do what’s best for the team.”
The New York Rangers have had concerns at the center position ever since they traded Derek Stepan in June. They now have Mika Zibenajead, Kevin Hayes, Miller, David Desharnais as the top four on the depth chart. Lias Andersson and Cristoval Nieves are other potential centers the team will take a look at.
The defensive responsibilities as a center are increased as opposed to playing the wing. Miller is going to have to get smarter in all three zones, retrain himself to take face-offs as puck possession is critical in both ends of the ice and will need to continue to keep up his offensive production. Last season, Miller tied a career-best, scoring 22 goals and 56 points for the team.
Miller, now 24 years old, is entering his sixth season with the Rangers. “We’re getting older now. We’re not young,” Miller said. With the NHL season being so long, Miller wants to be a steadier hockey player. He mentioned that he wants “to be more of a leader and lead by example and be a consistent 82-game player.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault feels Miller can get the job done but needs to see him play in the role before he will be comfortable leaving him at that position. “I’ve got to go out and see right here early on at training camp, a guy like J.T. who has played that position before, how he looks, how he feels,” Vigneault said.
There are a lot of questions that come with making a position change that’s this important. Center is a fast-paced, high-intensity position. With all the responsibility he will have at this position, one would have to ask what will be sacrificed in order for Miller to be successful at the center position? The Rangers really don’t have a big offensive scorer on the team. When they traded Derek Stepan to Arizona, they might have given away his big contract, but they also traded a 17 goal, 55 point man. No one has joined the team to replace these numbers — and now with Miller’s shift to center, the team can not afford to lose his scoring potential. I feel Miller will be able to keep the point production high as he adapts to his new spot in the lineup. The team has been grooming him to take a lead role and he is the kind of player that will do whatever he is asked to help the club win games.
The next potential question that is bound to come up is who can help Miller transition to center and help him with face-offs? This, by far, is the toughest question yet. If you look at the last few seasons, the Rangers have not been a very good face-off team. They’re going to have to help Miller — and probably Kevin Hayes, too — in face-off proficiency.
The Rangers have been dealing with the question of who will be the missing center for the entire summer. The trades the organization made helped out with the defensive issue the team had last season but added more questions on the offensive side of the game. I thought it was great that Vigneault attacked the situation right out of the gate. Hopefully, he will get some early answers and the Miller transition will work out.
Miller has said all the right things up till this point. “I think I have more to give, another level, and I think I’m ready to take on that.”
That’s the winning attitude every player should have. It’s great to see Miller is already stepping up in his new leadership role.