Start, Sit, Trade? The Fate of J.T. Miller

The March 2nd trade deadline is quickly approaching, and teams around the NHL are setting hooks in an attempt to snag depth in the collective push towards the playoffs. Aside from the need of a solid sixth defensemen the New York Rangers are probing for a center in an attempt to bolster the at times anemic offense of the third, and fourth lines.

The forwards of the third, and fourth lines of the Rangers including: Tanner Glass, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Lee Stempniak, Dominic Moore, and Kevin Hayes have a combined total of 25 goals this season in a collective 233 games played.

The carousel of young talent moving from starter, to healthy scratch has been fairly consistent as Alain Vineault aims to piece together the best team, guide his players to make good decisions, and win. One player under the microscope is twenty one year old J.T. Miller.

Up from the Hartford Wolf Pack earlier this season Miller seemed to show promise through his contributions to the AHL affiliate. In his 2013-2014 season he had tallied 42 points in 41 games played. The quality in his speed, and size are clearly apparent when he’s playing well, and with confidence.

His ability to power through the neutral zone, and make a heads up play either distributing the puck, or snapping a shot on goal is absolutely an asset.

He has at times shown his ability to contribute on the power play (Ranked 11th at 19.4%). In his best game since November against the Anaheim Ducks on January 7th he showed his ability to deliver the puck tallying two assists in a 4-1 win. Unfortunately that is where the positives seem to dwindle.
J.T. Miller is a young player having his first true go as a professional this year. This season he’s racked up 5 goals, 5 assists in 25 games played with a +/- of -3. Coach Alain Vineault has not had Miller on the ice consistently opting for personnel changes, and position shifts based on performance.

This season Vineault has used two true centers who can consistently produce in Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan. Dominic Moore has been fairly inconsistent as a third line Center. Miller’s inconsistency at center has resulted in him being swapped for Kevin Hayes, or Tanner Glass when David Brassard, or Derek Stepan have needed a respite.

The issues at center were most apparent in the previous games against the New York Islanders, and The Boston Bruins both strong contenders slated to go deep in the playoffs; the Rangers were out scored 10-1. Additionally the Rangers are currently 29th in the league in face offs with a 46.5 win percentage.

So the question becomes do the Rangers play Miller, continue with the line changes, or sacrifice the potential of the young athlete in an attempt to bolster for the short term via sign, and trade? Looking strictly at the numbers since his first stint with the Rangers where he was eventually sent back down to Hartford; Miller’s stats are up nearly doubling in points from 6 to 10 while having played 5 fewer games. However there seems a lot left to be desired as the New York Rangers look to balance winning now, and in the future.

There is potential that Miller may be traded along with draft picks, and/or prospects as the Rangers have little cap space to work with. There’s talk of the Rangers showing interest in Arizona Coyotes Center Antoine Vermette who may improve the Rangers down the home stretch despite his 3.5 million price tag, and looming free agency.

Within the Rangers organization, there is the twenty two year old Swedish upstart Oscar Lindberg currently with the Hartford Wolf Pack. He’s shown promising numbers putting together 13 goals, and 18 assists with a +5 in 44 games. Lindberg is on track to have an improved season over last year’s performance with the Wolf Pack. His overall numbers look more promising than the work of J.T. Miller however Lindberg has yet to experience the force that is the NHL.

The mystery of Miller remains, as statistically he is fairly erratic despite having significant time to learn Vineault’s system. He has yet to find a true identity despite showing flashes of initiative, and brilliance. In the upcoming month it will be crucial for Miller to demonstrate his ability with the games he is allotted if he hopes to stay with the New York Rangers.

If the young talent can contribute on a consistent basis the trade deadline may come, and go without significant change. If not, knowing Glen Sather, prepare to see young talent get shipped, and a big check get signed.

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