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JT Miller should stay on the second line when St. Louis is healthy

Bobby Bevilacqua

JT Miller skating 3-15

JT Miller has thrived alongide Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, and should stay on the second line after Martin St. Louis is healthy again. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

When Martin St. Louis went down with a right knee injury, Alain Vigneault lost one of the more productive members of the Rangers top six. After some line switching, and trying Kevin Hayes out at left wing, Vigneault went to JT Miller to skate alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, a combination that has worked extremely well.

Before putting the line together, AV praised Miller for his hard work this season at becoming a better two way player, and said that he wondered if Miller could fill the role that Benoit Pouliot provided; an aggressive, big body with the ability to score some goals.

In the two games with Brassard and Zuccarello, Miller has provided exactly that.

JT Miller has had an interesting few years in the NHL, bouncing around from the NHL to the AHL, finally sticking in the Rangers lineup for good this season. It started as a fourth liner, but he found steady chemistry alongside Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin on the third line, a trio that quickly became one of the Rangers most effective lines.

But when Martin St. Louis hurt his knee in a game against the Panthers, Vigneault rearranged the lines. Rick Nash was reunited with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, last year’s dominant line, and they have performed well.

The Brassard line has been extremely good the last two games with JT Miller and Zuccarello on the wings. Last night, they combined for five points (Miller – 1 G, 1 A; Brassard – 1 G; Zuccarello – 2A), controlling possession and creating great chances. Miller also scored one of the goals against the Hurricanes, giving him three points in the last two games.

Personally, I think Miller can fill that same role that Pouliot did last season. He plays hard against the boards, gets to the dirty areas of the ice for the second effort goals, and has one heck of a wrist shot. Also, Brassard and Zuccarello tend to be pass first guys, filling the playmaker role on that line. Miller would really benefit from being with two of the better passers on the team, and has gotten a lot of quality looks during the last two nights.

jt miller shooting 3-18

Miller is a big, aggressive player with one heck of a wrist shot, similar to Benoit Pouliot, a key performer on the Rangers third line. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

This isn’t meant to knock Martin St. Louis either. In fact, he may play even better if put on the third line, and this is why.

St. Louis is a veteran, with great experience, and a lot to offer to young players like Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin. His speed is not a problem, so the third line would still have the same element of quickness, but St. Louis also would solidify the right wing position on that line.

Kevin Hayes is really crafty and skilled, and consistently makes great passes to open the ice for other players. St. Louis has a great one-timer and a good wrist shot, and I can already envision Marty taking slap shots from the faceoff dot on unsuspecting goalies.

St. Louis is also a great passer and playmaker on top of his scoring ability. So in theory, he will be able to set up Hayes, who doesn’t utilize his shot enough, and Carl Hagelin for chances. The skill of Hayes and St. Louis would complement the speed of Hagelin nicely.

One thing that I find most intriguing with moving St. Louis down to the third line would be keeping the Rangers lineup from being too top heavy. What I mean by this is rather than placing all of the skill players in the top six, you keep St. Louis on the third line, spreading out the “top six” guys.

martin st. louis profile 3-15

Placing St. Louis on the third line with Hagelin and Hayes shouldn’t be viewed as a demotion, but instead as a way to balance out the lines, creating the three most balanced, and potentially dangerous, forward lines for New York. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

It also means that opposing teams can’t just throw their third defensive pair and fourth line against the Rangers third line, because they’d have to be more aware of a guy like St. Louis coming out on the ice with Hayes and Hagelin. It creates mismatches, and forces opposing teams to risk leaving a guy like St. Louis on the ice so they can cover Rick Nash on the top line.

This isn’t a demotion for St. Louis or a promotion for Miller. Instead, it’s a strategy move that Vigneault could use, spreading out the scoring ability, and forcing teams to have to deal with three really good lines, all with one elite player.

Miller’s pure scoring mindset benefits the playmakers in Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, and St. Louis’ experience and offensive abilities benefit Hayes and Hagelin. Kevin Hayes has 19 points (7-12-19) in the last 25 games, so St. Louis would still be alongside a really good center.

Those three well-balanced, dangerous lines would create a lot of problems for opposing teams, and would help them make another run at the Stanley Cup.

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Posted on March 24, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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