Rangers need to avoid a bridge deal and extend JT Miller now

Bobby Bevilacqua

JT Miller profile 1-5

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

On Tuesday, the Florida Panthers made a big decision to extend Aleksander Barkov, the 20 year old, second overall draft pick from 2013. Barkov has been a key part of Florida’s success this season, centering Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau and scoring 31 points (13-18-31) in 39 games this season.

So in his third season, instead of signing him to a bridge deal, the Panthers went all in, inking him to a six year, $34.5 million extension, an average of $5.75 million per year. This isn’t the first time the team has signed a young forward to a big extension right off of their ELC. Florida did the same with Nick Bjugstad last year after he scored 24 goals, giving him a six year extension with a cap hit of $4.1 million.

The thought process here is to immediately lock up the most talented young forwards, and get them under contract before they get better and can command more money. If Bjugstad pans out and becomes a consistent 20 goal, 50+ point scoring center, $4.1 million will seem like a very reasonable price.

Jeff Gorton and the Rangers are in a similar situation. Three young players will be coming off of an ELC or a bridge contract; Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and JT Miller. It’s important to prioritize those players, and Miller should certainly be at the top of that list.

Since joining the Rangers, JT Miller has consistently improved, grown and developed. In his first full NHL season last year, Miller played in 59 games, scoring 10 goals and 23 points while also being under Vigneault’s watchful eye and scrutiny, often being a healthy scratch.

This season, he’s blossomed into a bona-fide top-six forward, often skating alongside Rick Nash or Derick Brassard or Chris Kreider on the top two lines. He’s been the team’s best player on the road, and he’s set new career highs in goals (13) and points (25). What’s also impressive is the fact that he hasn’t been scratched at all, starting in all 49 games this season.

In the last six games, Miller has scored five goals, leading the team’s offensive charge as they start to get their game together. He leads all forwards in corsi for (50.94%), which is impressive considering how poor this team has been at consistently driving possession.

That effect is seen every night. Whatever line Miller has been on is typically the one that’s most effective during the game. He’s making his teammates better, whether it be by drawing attention away from them or by creating shots and scoring chances.

And for those of you that love physicality and toughness, Miller has it in bunches. He’s always willing to get in deep on the forecheck, and consistently finishes his checks. He also uses his size and strength to get to the front of the net and capitalize on those chances more consistently than any other player.

While he may not have the breakaway speed of Chris Kreider, or the vision of Kevin Hayes, his biggest strength is the fact that he’s so well rounded. Miller is arguably the most versatile player on the team. Not only can he play all three forward positions, but his offensive talent is very balanced, he’s become much more effective away from the puck, and he’s even improved his defensive play.

That’s what makes him more valuable than Kreider or Hayes right now. His versatility, consistency and steady improvement are all reasons as to why he needs to be re-signed. And signed for a long time.

Jeff Gorton could give him a two year bridge deal like he did with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan in he’s trying to work around the salary cap. But I think we’ll see JT Miller become a 20+ goal scorer and reach heights of 50+ points sooner than later. It would be in the team’s best interests to give him the long term deal now, save money by signing him before a huge breakout season, and reap the benefits a few years down the line.

Posted on January 27, 2016, in In the Crease, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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