clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

J.T. Miller Needs to Stay in the Lineup

So if Miller stays in the lineup... who sits?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Since J.T. Miller has been called up he has 3 points in 4 games. In the two games that Miller didn't register a point he skated for less than 9 minutes on the Rangers' fourth line. It's easy to forget that Miller started the season on the Rangers and played three underwhelming games where he was noticeably a step behind and looked out of place in the Rangers' lineup. However, the J.T. Miller we have seen in the Blueshirts' last 4 games is a very different player from the 21 year old we saw at the inception of the 2014-15 NHL season. Since being called up Miller has, when given the opportunity, been a standout player for the Rangers in his four games back up with the big club.

So what has changed since J.T. was sent down after a particularly rough game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 12th? In Hartford Miller scored 15 points in 18 games which is good for a tie as the third highest scoring player on the Wolf Pack with Oscar Lindberg. The only player that was contributing more to the Wolf Pack's offense before Miller was called up was veteran forward Chris Bourque who has 22 points in 23 games this season in the AHL. Miller looking good against AHL competition should not come as a surprise considering he registered 42 points in 41 games last season with the Wolf Pack, but it was very encouraging to see him respond so well to his demotion and then seize the opportunity when he was called back up to the Rangers.

Blueshirt Banter's own Adam Herman was calling for Miller to get called up in early November when there was a hole in the Rangers' lineup at center:

Vigneault needs to accept that Miller is going to make some mistakes, and that making mistakes at the NHL level is the only way he is going to learn to become an NHL player. For all of John Tortorella's faults, one thing he did do right most of the time was player development. After his debut hat-trick, Derek Stepan had two points - both assists - in his next 13 NHL games. Instead of sending him down and letting Hartford deal with it, Tortorella kept plugging him in there and forced him to adapt. Eventually, Stepan learned, and both he and the Rangers are better for it. At this point it's the only way Miller will learn as well.

How great of a point is that? Yes, Miller will make mistakes but in those mistakes there will be invaluable lessons and Miller is the kind of kid you want on the ice getting a chance to grow, develop, and learn. It's been easy to lose track of Miller with Kevin Hayes in the lineup looking like the Rangers' third line center for the near future, but it would be foolish to forget just how good J.T. Miller can be. So what has been different for Miller this time around?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Miller has not been tasked with playing center ice since being called up which is something the club was demanding out of him after Derek Stepan went down with an injury in training camp. Miller and Kevin Hayes went head to head for the job of the Rangers' third line center and the patient and big-bodied Hayes emerged as the better choice for the Rangers despite his lack of professional experience and his seemingly one-dimensional game. Miller was underwhelming and was demoted to the Wolf Pack after being a healthy scratch for a few games. Since being called up Miller has been making better decisions with the puck and has been showing off his speed and ability to make things happen with and without the puck in the offensive zone.

With Anthony Duclair out of the picture for the Rangers until late December after being loaned to Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championship, J.T. Miller now has one less player to compete with for a roster spot and for ice time. However, there are still a glut of depth players competing for two spots in the Rangers' bottom six (assuming that Chris Kreider returns from his neck and back spasm issues in time for Saturday night's game). Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak, and J.T. Miller are in direct competition with one another for spots in the Blueshirts' bottom six. Thus far this season we have seen head coach Alain Vigneault scratch Stempniak, Fast, and Miller but, alarmingly, we have yet to see him scratch Tanner Glass.

Lines from Monday Night's Win






St. Louis







I'm honestly not sure what it is going to take for Alain Vigneault to recognize the detriment of playing Tanner Glass in any role for any amount of ice time, but with Miller's strong play and Duclair on loan to Canada, we have once again come to a crossroads. Miller has done everything he can do to stay in the Rangers' lineup since being called up, Jesper Fast has been excellent in his fourth line role skating alongside Dominic Moore, and Lee Stempniak is not only one of the few right-handed shots on the team, he's also a better option than Glass in every conceivable role, except perhaps if a hockey game came down to who would win a fight. Thankfully that has never been the case, which is why continuing to dress Tanner Glass at this point is absolute insanity.

There's no escaping or denying that Miller has made a strong case to stay in the Rangers' lineup not only in what he has done in the 4 games that he has been back up with the big club, but also in the way that he has played in Hartford. Will there be mistakes with Miller? Of course there will be. But whether he plays on the third line or the fourth line Miller deserves to stay up with the big club and play against NHL competition on a regular basis. I, for one, am hoping that he is one of the players that finds himself with a seat after the music stops in the game of musical chairs that is the Rangers' bottom six forwards.

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//;showinfo=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Because I'm quite sure that Tanner Glass and a few other Rangers in the lineup can't do things like that.