The New York Rangers are having a rough season and J.T Miller has not played well as of late. His numbers are still there, but the eye test is concerning.
When an entire team is struggling it is hard to properly assess how a player is actually doing. In the case of J.T Miller, it has been an inconsistent streaky season. The 24-year-old’s development has been a bumpy and non-linear path with a pushy head coach. Head Coach Alain Vigneault has given some harsh and abrasive words several times during his tenure with the team.
At one point, it was not clear if Miller was ever going to breakthrough as a player in the NHL. Through his first 114 games in the NHL, he had only registered a measly 33 points. Although he was only 22-years-old going into his breakout season, it seemed as if it was a make or break season in the league for the Ohio native. This led Vigneault to question the forward’s dedication to the game and that maybe he would just be a really good AHL player.
However, his breakthrough eventually came and has been a valuable contributor to the team ever since. In the last two years, Miller has had 43 and 56 points respectively. The young forward is well on pace to posting his third straight 40 point season and could even push fifty.
A streaky streaker
The big knock on Miller during his career has been a lack of consistency. The forward does accumulate points, but they come in bunches. Three separate times in the past two months he has gone pointless for more than a week’s worth of games. He promptly broke all of those dry spells with multi-point games, but it speaks to his streakiness.
There is nothing wrong with the type of player Miller is. As a middle six forward he can be expected to tally somewhere between 40 and 60 points. The problem this year has been the forward’s usage and who he’s played with.
The biggest difference between this year and last year has been what the Rangers are asking Miller to do. This season, with all of the injury problems the team has had, Miller has been ping-ponged around the lineup and has not had much to work with. Moving over from his preferred position of the wing to center has been a challenge. Defensive awareness has never been his strong suit and asking even more from him in that realm has been a mess.
On top of playing a position he is not comfortable with, he has played with forwards who do not compliment his game well. In a vacuum, Miller is a taker not a creator for those around him. The winger is dependent on those around him to create scoring chances as a career negative possession player.
Should the Rangers go all the way in on a fire sale, Miller is one of the guys that will be expected to pick up the slack. The rest of this season will go a long way in determining just how much money Miller can lobby for as a restricted free agent. Based on the Rangers track record with young players, if they avoid arbitration, Miller will likely get a bridge deal.
On a better team, his production and his possession numbers should both improve. As a whole, the Rangers are the worst team in the league in terms of Corsi For Percentage. That will obviously drag down the value of players that are still good like Miller. A shift back to wing next season and a skilled center next to him will get him closer to his production last season.
The role that Miller currently occupies is not one that should command a large amount of money. Furthermore, he could be solid trade bait in the near future. If the Rangers take next season as a true rebuilding season where they do not expect to make the playoffs, Miller is an expendable asset.
Everyone should just relax about Miller, he’s having a down season on a bad team. Just because he’s struggling does not mean the team should move on from him so quickly. Miller has proven his ability to be a solid NHL goal scorer, 25 goal guys are not common. Don’t be so quick to come down with a case of what have you done for me lately? syndrome.