JT Miller has played his way into untouchable status

Bobby Bevilacqua

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Rangers have been fortunate to have quite a few talented young players blossoming at the NHL level recently. Kevin Hayes is emerging as a top six quality center, racking up primary points and playing a much better two-way game. Chris Kreider set a new career high in goals and is emerging as a fantastic power forward. And Brady Skjei is far outperforming offensive expectations while playing a very solid defensive game.

But JT Miller’s steady development and consistency over the last three seasons has been the most exciting, and he might be evolving into a franchise player.

Miller, 23, has played parts of five seasons with the Rangers and has improved in each and every one of them. In the 2012-13 season under John Tortorella, Miller was largely a fourth line player, not earning the trust of the former head coach and tallying four points (2-2-4) in 26 games. It was much of the same in Alain Vigneault’s first season as well, recording six points (3-3-6) in 30 games and playing just four playoff games in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

But the next season is where we saw Miller showing signs of why the Rangers drafted him 15th overall in 2011. Playing mostly on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes, Miller scored 10 goals with 13 assists and was a very solid depth option for the team, scoring eight points in the playoffs as well.

Last year saw an even more impressive jump in his play. After playing just 58 games the year before, Miller skated in all 82 games, playing anywhere from the third line to the first line, improving his defensive play a lot and earning the trust of his coach, and scoring 22 goals and 43 points. Five of those goals were game winners and 20 of them were at even strength. His 49.2% CF was very impressive on an awful possession team too.

Flash forward to this season, and JT Miller has already broken last year’s point total for a new career high in just 54 games. His two goals last night gave him 18 for the season, and a career high of 26 assists puts him at 44 points for the season. That’s good for a pace of 67 points in a full 82 game season. He has nine points (2-7-9) in the last five games and 22 points (9-13-22) in the last 17 games. He’s also averaging a career high of 16:13 of ice time per game, a full minute more than last season, which shows that AV is using him more, trusts him and is playing Miller in a lot of important situations.

Despite all of this, there have still been rumblings about how there’s a chance he could be traded for a top defenseman or because of the team not having enough spots to protect him for the expansion draft.

But Miller’s play this season has shown that he should be considered untouchable by Jeff Gorton and become a building block for the franchise moving forward, and here’s why;

1) Consistency

Miller has not only scored quite a few goals and points over the last two seasons, but he’s spread out his scoring and is maintaining it at a very consistent pace. He has a point in 32 of the team’s 54 games so far, and leads the team in that category. He also has a point in 15 of the last 17 games. On top of that, he’s registered a multipoint game in each of the last four games. The scoring is spread out and he has an impact in nearly every game.

2) He’s clutch

Miller leads the team with six game winning goals this season, a new career high for him. Last year he had five game winners, and 14 of his 55 career goals (25.5%) have been game winners.

3) He has grit AND plays the game well

A lot of fans value grit and toughness, and Miller definitely brings that to his game. He’s been known to stand up for his teammates and pick a fight when necessary and throws the body often. He’s a good forechecker, plays aggressively but smart, and most importantly, doesn’t compromise the rest of his game to play physical. That’s just the kind of gritty forward you want on your team.

4) He’s versatile

Over the last two seasons, JT Miller played a lot of right wing while on the same line as Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin. This season he’s played left wing a lot while on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner. When Hayes was injured, Miller played center for five games and racked up seven assists. He can effectively play every single position and has produced at all of them. That is an extremely rare characteristic at the NHL level.

5) His hockey IQ is off the charts

Miller had a short leash for a while under AV and it was because of his tendency to be a bit reckless with the puck, something that led to turnovers and chances for the opposition. But his defensive game and his play away from the puck has improved so much that he’s now killing penalties with Kevin Hayes every game and doing a damn good job at it too. Look at this play from last night, where he made a diving poke check in the neutral zone and created a chance for Michael Grabner.

JT Miller diving play.GIF

That didn’t result in a goal, but it was a remarkable play and just a small sliver of what he’s been showing. His understanding of the game and growth in that area has made his very adept at timing when to join the rush, when to throw the body, and when to try and make a play. And he’s a better hockey player because of it.

This is the kind of player you want to build a franchise around. The Rangers are fortunate to have a lot of youthful talent at the forward position that can be a part of the team’s future for a very long time. JT Miller needs to be one of those players, and Gorton should officially label him as an untouchable. He’s earned that as well as a long term contract extension.

Posted on February 10, 2017, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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