J.T. Miller was a healthy scratch for the New York Rangers for the last two games and after being sent back down to Hartford, it does not appear likely that he will be back in the lineup soon. With the Rangers winning games consistently as of late, it is no surprise that Coach Alain Vigneault has been reluctant to insert the young, inexperienced forward whom has played in less than half of the teams game this year.
The only reason that Miller was even on the Rangers roster as opposed to continuing to dominate the AHL ranks is the recent injury to Chris Kreider. Kreider suffered a broken hand on March 21 in Columbus and has since undergone surgery. He is certain to miss the rest of the regular season but is indefinite for the playoffs, provided the Rangers secure a spot. This injury has sent shockwaves through the lineup, impacting not only J.T. Miller but all four of the Rangers forward lines. All four lines have changed since Kreider’s injury with the glaring hole being the one he left next to Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.
Miller was the first person tasked with replacing Kreider and held the wing spot for a brief stint. This line shuffling is also a result of the injury to Kreider coinciding with the change in personnel that only happened several weeks ago in the captain for captain trade. Replacing Kreider has been complimented by the task of finding the ideal spot for St. Louis. In lieu of the 21-year-old Miller holding a consistent spot in the roster, the checking line has seen a player move out of that role into the top 9 forwards. For the most part they have risen to the challenge but having Daniel Carcillo on the top line a couple of games ago seemed a bit far fetched.
These lines jumbling have been reminiscent of the days of John Tortorella, the coach was known to shuffle the lines on a regular basis. Ultimately, the Rangers have been most successful when they have had consistent line combinations. This is where J.T. Miller may come in as the solution to the problem created by Chris Kreider’s absence.
Carl Hagelin has been the latest square peg to be placed in the round hole left by Kreider. The thought process was to replicate the speed that helped the line when it was at full health and served as the Rangers top line. In order to promote a level of continuity, it would be ideal to have whoever replaces Kreider in the line up also replace his exact spot in the lines. This way, Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello, Brian Boyle-Dominic Moore-Dorsett/Carcillo and Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Martin St.Louis can continue to play together as they did before the injury.
When push comes to shove, the smartest move for the Rangers may be giving J.T. Miller a prolonged chance to gain some chemistry with the top unit and see if betting on a rookie in the playoffs can prove as successful as two years ago when we all met Kreider for the first time. It is not a certain solution but it allows for the other lines to continue on what they have been doing and therein makes the loss of Kreider not cause as great collateral damage as it has thus far. When the playoffs roll around it will benefit the Rangers to have a set lineup night in and night out. If they hope to roll the dice on Miller, it is time to get him some NHL ice time.