In the world of NHL prospects there's nothing better than when a top prospect turns into just that before your very eyes. But there's also nothing worse than watching a prospect not make the jump for whatever reason, even if the expectation is they're still going to make the jump in the near future. Chris Kreider is an example of a player who took the jump this season. To this point, J.T. Miller has not.
Kreider's past struggles have been well documented. I personally don't like the way he was handled last year, and I think it impacted him. Some of you disagree that the treatment stunted his development, but I think it played a big factor. A lot of people point towards Alain Vigneault sending Kreider down in the beginning of the year as a sign that the coach treated Kreider the same way John Tortorella did. Again, I disagree. Vigneault made the decision we all begged for him to make. He chose a path. Either Kreider plays 17 minutes a night in the NHL or the AHL, but five minutes a night in the NHL isn't going to help anyone. So Vigneault walked down the AHL road, called up Kreider when he was needed and has let him learn at the NHL level. There have been bumps and bruises here and there, but he's blossomed into one of the Rangers' most important players this year. I give Vigneault's confidence in him (again, sending him down to the AHL didn't signify he didn't have confidence in him in my book) a lot of the credit to that end.
To be fair, it should be noted that Kreider projects to be the better player. Miller wasn't (and shouldn't be) hyped on the same levels that Kreider was. They're two different players, and Miller's offense was never expected to be in the same stratosphere as Kreider's. But still, Miller is expected to be a polished, all-around player who can help in all three zones.
Miller's situation, however, is slowly turning into Kreider's last year. Vigneault is a coach who is known to run a balanced lineup. This isn't the Tortorella teams where two or three forwards routinely play five minutes a night. So the fact that Miller just played five minutes in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to the Devils on Tuesday, followed by Vigneault saying Miller has "upside" but highlighted that he has been on the ice for some important goals against isn't exactly a good thing.
The good news is the Rangers are expected to get Dominic Moore and Rick Nash back in the lineup sooner rather than later (although Nash's return date is still a question mark). That means Vigneault needs to create two roster spots. In the notes after the loss to the Devils I wrote the following on that subject:
- Miller played just five minutes. Brandon Mashinter played under three, Benoit Pouliot played under 10. Those are the three players who are candidates to be removed once Dominic Moore and Rick Nash come back and get healthy. My guess is the Rangers might send Miller down so he can actually play, but I'm not sure.
That still seems like the logical thing to do. Miller isn't getting anywhere playing five minutes a night on Broadway. And the fact that Miller seems to play the least amount of time during critical moments in big games doesn't play to his hand, either.
If you look at the progress of Kreider, you'll see how much trust he's earned. He's playing in the final minutes of games when the Rangers are up (although that penalty against the Panthers wasn't a great decision), he's getting double shifted in the third period when the Rangers need offense and he's always impacting the game somehow, someway when he's on the ice.
That's a big difference from what he was doing lat year. Miller might make that jump as well, but he's not making it right now and he's not going to be able to make it without a real opportunity to make it. More seasoning in the AHL isn't a bad thing, and it shouldn't be taken that way.
In fact, it might be the best thing to ever happen to him.
Just ask Kreider.
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