New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault put together a line before the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday that consisted of all American-born skaters. The “USA Line” consisted of Derek Stepan centering Chris Kreider as usual, but with 22-year-old JT Miller playing the right wing. JT Miller has been playing the best hockey of his young career lately and has fit in very well with Stepan and Kreider. Stepan, 24, and Kreider, 23, are also arguably playing the best hockey of their careers right now as well. The trio has found instant chemistry and in two games together the line has contributed two game-winning goals.
JT Miller was the Rangers first round pick in 2011 and since then he has been back and forth between the American Hockey League, the 4th line, a healthy scratch, and recently a 3rd line player where he fit in nicely with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin. After recent trades to Lee Stempniak and Anthony Duclair, Miller knew this was his opportunity to seize the moment and become a regular in the lineup. This is his first opportunity in a top-six forward position and he has fully taken advantage of it. In his first game playing with Stepan and Kreider, Miller assisted on Chris Kreider’s game-winning goal late into regulation and was awarded the Broadway hat for his efforts.
“It was actually late in my shift, I’m trying to change, but I could just see him getting on his horse so I just kind of waited for him, and he makes the whole play happen with how fast he is, so I just have to put it on his tape and he makes a great move,” said Miller.
The next game in Minnesota, the Rangers were up against the only team with a better record than they had since the All-Star Break. Martin St. Louis returned to the lineup, however he was playing on the 3rd line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin.
Coach Vigneault obviously liked what he saw the previous game from Stepan, Kreider, and Miller.The Minnesota Wild are as tough of a road game as it gets these days. With a 2-2 tie in the 3rd period, it was once against the USA Line that came through.
JT Miller scored the game-winner with a deflection in front after a shot from the point by Ryan McDonagh. It was a tight-checking playoff-atmosphere in which the Rangers were able to clinch the Metroplitan Division. The Wild played a very good hockey game, and seemed to have all the momentum in the world after a heroic penalty kill at the end of the 2nd period that consisted of blocked shot after blocked shot.Miller’s game winner was a little over a minute after Thomas Vanek was able to tie the score at 2 after a fortunate bounce off the boards from a Matt Dumba point shot. Coach Alain Vigneualt had this to say about JT Miller after the game.
“JT’s a player that plays smart and plays hard and I really like his compete level right now, and that’s what we need from him,” said Vigneault.
USA Line Moving Forward
Looking ahead this could be a dominant line. Their games seem to complement each other well. Stepan’s excellent vision and ability to distribute the puck, with JT Miller’s net-front presence and ability to retrieve pucks along the wall, and Kreider’s speed, physicality, and goal-scoring ability all go well together.
An interesting side note about these three players is that all three have won World Junior Championship Gold Medals with Team USA. Stepan and Kreider won in 2010 and JT Miller in 2013. Kreider, this season scored 20 goals for the first time in his career. He is emerging into the type of player that can net 30 every year if he continues progressing. Derek Stepan however is the player that will lead and be the driving force for this line with his ability to play well in all areas of the game.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.