With the Rangers cap situation less than ideal, it’s not very likely that they’ll have the ability to replace both Brad Richards and Beniot Pouliot through free agency or a trade.
While Glen Sather will most assuredly find a way to acquire a substitute for one of the two, it’s looking more and more likely JT Miller, along with his $894,167 per year salary, will be designated with the responsibility of filling the remaining vacancy.
Here’s Rangers web content provider Jim Cerny, who is more dialed in than anyone on Blueshirt management thinking, during a recent live chat on the Rangers website…
“Not only will JT Miller get a chance to stick right out of training camp, the Rangers are really hoping that he can make a big step forward in his development this season…they really need him to be a solid regular next season among their forwards…he really is a crucial piece to this team’s success next year if you think about it..he doesn’t need to score 20 goals, but he needs to be a solid, trustworthy, 2-way forward..and the more he scores, even better!”
Meanwhile, Sather added this about the Rangers 2012 first round pick during a draft press conference last month…
“We expect Miller to come and play this year. He probably would’ve played throughout the playoffs if he hadn’t had his separated shoulder. He’s young. He fits into the price range. He’s going to develop into becoming a very good hockey player. He had a lot of growth this year, and did well.”
I had a spirited debate with a fellow Rangers fan on Twitter the other day regarding Miller being handed a line-up spot. While it’s doubtful Alain Vigneault already has him penciled in on the third line for opening night in St. Louis, it seems obvious that the organization feels their former first round pick deserves first crack at proving he’s worthy.
Last season in Hartford, the 6’1″, 205lb forward was a point per game player (42 points in 41 games) and more than held his own in the 30 NHL contests he participated in (3g, 3a). Also, if you remember correctly, Beniot Pouliot’s season was jumped started while on a line centered by Miller, not Derrick Brassard, in late December. The Ohio native is also one of the few Rangers players willing to pay the price physically to make a play either in front of the net or in the corner.
While Miller didn’t have a ton of chances in the postseason because of the above mentioned injury, he did have a huge impact in Game 5 against the Flyers when he came up with a big assist on a Brad Richards goal…
Miller is also very confident in his ability and isn’t afraid of the moment or to make a mistake.
Unfortunately, that borderline cockiness can get him into trouble as proved by Vigneault’s questioning of his commitment in April (via New York Post)…
“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis,” Vigneault said. “He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.
“J.T. has to figure it out and hopefully he will,” Vigneault added. “When he does, we’re going to have a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be a good minor league player.”
Some Rangers fans misconstrued those comments as meaning Miller had fallen out of favor with Vigneault, but it was quite the contrary. I’d say Vigneault had a pretty good grasp on which of his players needed to be coddled and which needed tough love this season. For Miller, it was the latter. Most young players have to be put in their place every once in awhile to learn what it takes to become a pro and that’s exactly what Vigneault did here.
Two weeks after those comments, Vigneault not only publicly expressed confidence in Miller, he followed that up by trusting the rookie with crucial minutes during the postseason. Not exactly how a coach who’s lost faith in a player reacts. It was a masterful way of AV taking Miller down a peg and then building him back up.
And while Miller won’t be mistaken for a Selke Trophy candidate anytime soon, he’s not exactly Alex Ovechkin either…
The 21-year old forward had a 51% Corsi (% of team shots for vs. against while a player is on the ice) during the regular season and a 56.8% Corsi in the playoffs. His playoff Corsi was 1.2% higher than the Rangers postseason Corsi average. So, he wasn’t a complete liability on the ice.
If Miller does fight his way into the line-up during training camp, they’ll be bumps along the way complete with scoring slumps, defensive miscues and possible healthy scratches. But this is how an organization builds for long-term success. Replace aging, over-priced free agents with young, talented alternatives and allow them to develop. Hey, it worked for the Kings.
The acquisition of the 38-year old Dan Boyle proves the Rangers remain in win now mode despite losing integral pieces from their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, so it’s not ideal counting on an unproven commodity to play such a large role this season. However, Miller has the tools to compete at the NHL level, while a resurgent Rick Nash and a full season of Martin St. Louis should alleviate some pressure on the rookie to replace the departed scoring output. Yes, Pouliot’s shoes will be hard to fill, but at the end of the day he finished the season with a very dispensable 36 points, which Miller is more than capable of matching or even eclipsing.