The New York Rangers’ success this season has been driven by their offense. Specifically, it has been driven by depth that helps create a balanced attack that is hard for opponents to match up against.
Amidst all of the forwards who are putting up strong numbers for the Rangers, the one who has risen to the top of the team’s points list is 23-year-old J.T. Miller.
Miller on Fire
Miller, the Rangers’ first-round draft pick back in 2011 (15th overall), has really panned out. That’s good news for the Rangers, because they have incredibly only had one first-round pick since then (Brady Skjei in 2012, who also seems to be panning out in his rookie year).
Miller, a versatile American forward who can play center or the wing, has improved his point total every year since getting his first taste of the NHL in the 2012-13 season. After solidifying a regular spot in the lineup last season and posting 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points, Miller has already accumulated 45 points (18 goals and 27 assists) through 55 games this season. That total leads the well-balanced and high-scoring Rangers, and puts him on pace for a 67-point campaign.
Much of Miller’s damage has come in recent weeks. He has picked up at least one point in nine of his past 10 games. Not coincidentally, the Rangers have gone 8-2-0 over that span. Going back further, Miller has 23 points (nine goals and 14 assists) in his last 18 games.
No. 10 for the Rangers has spent a large chunk of the season playing on a line with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner. That trio has been dynamite, as opponents have struggled to defend their speed and playmaking ability. Hayes is third on the Rangers with 40 points, while Grabner has been one of the league’s biggest surprises in leading the club with 26 goals. Miller has had a big hand in that.
Grabner was asked, “What is your secret?” Grabner replied, “Miller.” #NYR
— Blueshirt Bulletin (@NYRBlueBulletin) February 8, 2017
Not only is Miller set to completely shatter his career-best point total from last season, which he has already surpassed, but he has also blossomed into an extremely well-rounded player. He has always had the physical tools, with good size (6-foot-1, 206 lbs.), speed, and skill. This season though, his defensive game has taken an enormous leap forward. His on-ice awareness has concurrently developed into a strength of his game.
As such, head coach Alain Vigneault has entrusted Miller with penalty-killing duties, a responsibility he shares with his linemates, Hayes and Grabner, among others. Miller has made the most of his increased role, having scored three shorthanded goals this year after never having accomplished the feat once in his previous four NHL seasons.
Miller’s ascension to one of the top players in the Rangers’ lineup should make him an untouchable asset with respect to potential trades and expansion draft exposure. Interestingly, before the season, that was not as clear.
At that time, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba was holding out and seemingly on the trading block. A certain writer (okay, it was me) argued that the Rangers should consider dangling Miller if that’s what it would take to land Trouba, who would have filled what is still the team’s biggest weakness: the right side of its defense.
Now though, with Miller taking another huge step in his development and still only 23 years of age, the Blueshirts should not even think about trading him. Yes, they still need help on defense, but not at the expense of a rising young star forward.
The Rangers also need to make sure Miller is protected from the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Beyond that, they should look to get him locked up via a long-term extension once they are able to do so when next season rolls around. He is signed through next season at what is now a bargain of a cap hit ($2.75 million). Before Miler hits restricted free agent (RFA) status again, the Rangers should make sure their emerging star is signed for the long haul.