New York Rangers: It's Miller Time For J.T., Kevin Hayes
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 25: Antti Raanta #32 of the New York Rangers celebrates a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings with J.T. Miller #10 and Kevin Hayes #13 at Staples Center on March 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The time for waiting is over. Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller have to be the difference-makers for the New York Rangers many believe they can be.

For three years, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller have teased New York Rangers fans with their sky-high potential. It’s been an issue of consistency and trust from the coaching staff, not talent, that has hampered their ability to reach their extremely high ceilings. But after an offseason that’s seen some forwards move out of the Big Apple, both have the opportunity to step up.

But after an offseason that’s seen some forwards move out of the Big Apple, both have the opportunity to step up. The pieces are in place and the front office and coaching staff has their backs—for now at least. While some will consider last year to be breakout years for both, they need to be better in 2017-18 than they were.

To me, there is undoubtedly more pressure on Kevin Hayes to impress this season. We don’t know how long Filip Chytil will be here, and even with him around, there are big shoes to fill on both ends of the ice for Hayes. The thing with Hayes is this: If he’s not producing and getting offensive opportunities, he’s just a mediocre player. He’s not fast and he doesn’t play a physical game. When Kevin Hayes is at his best, he is a playmaking machine and a puck possession force. Like this.

I believe a stronger offseason training program and more confidence from the coaching staff will see Hayes deliver more consistent play than he has in the past. Look for him to reach the 55-point plateau this season.

J.T. Miller, on the other hand, is more of a total package. He’s a stronger skater and more eager to get his hands dirty. In two full seasons, Rangers fans have watched the 24-year-old grow from an overzealous blue line toe-dragger to a complete 200-foot player in 168 games since the 2015-16 season.

To me, if Miller isn’t finding the scoresheet night in and night out, he’s still a much more valuable player than Hayes. He’s someone who really gets after it on a forecheck and isn’t afraid to deliver big hits. Miller can play anywhere up and down the lineup.

Of course, I think Miller is so much more than a bottom-six grinder, and I compare him to a Ryan Kesler-type player. A guy who is capable of 30 goals and 30 assists while maintaining a nastiness to him that allows him to pester the opposition’s top players and play solid defense.

Again, we saw Miller really breakout last year, but I think this year is the year we start to see Miller hit his actual ceiling. Confidence from management and coaching staff is an absolute must for a player and Miller now has that backing.

The only concerning thing about these two was that neither one did anything in the playoffs last season. This is where the maturation process needs to be most relevant. On paper, the Rangers look like a playoff team, and now it’s time for these two to rely on that past playoff experience to better themselves.

It’s up to head coach Alain Vigneault to properly use and treat these two players. Slumps happen, 82 games is a grind. These two are now big parts of the “core,” so he needs to let them play through their slumps.

Don’t destroy their confidence and minimalize their usage. Don’t demote them to the fourth line. Part of the maturation process is finding ways to battle slumps. The last thing a young, skilled kid in a slump needs is a demotion. Boost their confidence and help them play through the struggles.

Neal Purcell has a tremendous passion for New York Rangers hockey and the sport of hockey in general. A graduate of SUNY Cortland in Upstate NY, Purcell coaches both a high school hockey team and a travel team in the winter. Purcell is also a part of a small family business in the Central New York Region.