If J.T. Miller wasn’t already Chris Drury’s and the New York Rangers’ most coveted trade deadline prize, he sure was after the 5-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks Sunday evening.
The 28-year-old former Ranger notched two impressive assists on the pair of opening Canucks goals to solidify the deficit. The first came with Miller curling around the net to connect tape-to-tape with Tanner Pearson; the second came off the rush, where Miller slowed the game down to slide a cross-ice dish to Tyler Myers.
Both of these plays were testaments to the playmaking acumen Miller has only amplified since he once contributed them to the Rangers from 2013-18. Miller now sits at 10th in NHL scoring with 60 points, which leads the Canucks roster handedly.
Regardless of Ryan Strome’s contract status, this is the piece the Rangers must add into the fold to bolster them to a top threat and it is necessary to do it at a high cost. Miller’s versatility would pay dividends in playing alongside Strome and Artemi Panarin’s sound chemistry. With Alexis Lafrenière beginning to nestle in aside the goal-scoring power of Mika Zibenenjad and Chris Kreider, the Rangers would possess a league-reckoning top-six forward group.
Perhaps the most desirable attribute to Miller’s game is this hybrid style of skill and chipiness that he has branded throughout his career. It’s just the edge that the top six yearns for, yet also maintains the high upside several other fill-ins to the Strome-Panarin line haven’t provided.
With the trade deadline still three weeks out and Vancouver treading three points out of a competitive playoff hunt in the West, the decision to deal Miller could be juiced until the eleventh hour. Vancouver made a swift resurgence since hiring Bruce Bourdreau behind the bench in December, but it might not be enough to realistically buy in on this season.
They may want to re-sign their leading scorer if they deem him fit for their future, but with some other key re-signings on the rise, someone lucrative would need to be shed to start stocking assets. If that’s how Vancouver elects to proceed, that someone is Miller and the recipient will simply be the highest bidder.
It obviously boils down to what the final price tag is and given the pipeline Drury has on tap, it could be an overwhelming wishlist from the Rangers. Ideally, it could cost some combination of a young roster player, a couple of A-level prospects and premium draft assets. If Drury can assemble a package while avoiding a Lafreniere, Kappo Kakko, K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider or Filip Chytil, there should be no doubt on giving Vancouver whatever else might please them.
But it won’t be that easy. Of that group, Chytil is probably the most exchangeable piece and without surrendering the kitchen sink with him, shipping the 22-year-old center isn’t an unreasonable idea. The only caveat is that the Rangers would be short a third-line center and Miller and Strome would likely both have to play down the middle, rather than as linemates. Other ingredients to the Miller formula could include Nils Lundkvist and Vitali Kravtsov. Both former first-round picks have future upside and would be scribed into some other nightly lineups around the league right now.
While Lundkvist is one of the Rangers most exciting defense prospects, his future with the team could be redundant with Adam Fox at large. It’s amusing to think that Lundkvist—a prospect the Rangers selected with a pick they received from Tampa Bay in dealing Miller away with Ryan McDonagh—is now likely a key piece to bring Miller back four years later.
As for Kravtsov, it’s tough to imagine him in a Rangers uniform again as is and his role as a crafty, skinny winger isn’t one the Rangers don’t already have enough of either. So, both could be assets Drury can afford to shed to make an acquisition that fortifies this team right now and for the foreseeable future. Plus, both would have more breathable circumstances on Vancouver, so it’s a compatible match.
Miller has one year after this on his five-year $26.25 million contract he signed with Tampa Bay in 2018 and would need an extension. There is no doubt a return to Broadway is where Miller could prosper throughout the rest of his prime—especially with the sustainable young core that has budded.
It was Miller’s departure that began the Rangers rebuild back in 2018. Ironically, reacquiring him is the transaction that would propel the Rangers back into championship contention for the first time since and that should be a top priority for Drury.