J.T. Miller's NHL career has been an on-again, off-again career. The 21-year-old, formerly taken 15th overall in the 2011 draft, has all the promise in the world. And to build on that, he's still only 21, so while it's easy to get frustrated by the inconsistent glimpses he provides, he's nowhere close to a lost cause. Here's how his abbreviated 2013-14 season went.
It's fair to speculate whether Miller could have made the team out of training camp, but with the likes of Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin banged up, it was all hands on deck. Miller played eight games in the month of October, followed by seven in November. The Rangers as a team played 12 and 15 games in those stretches respectively, so Miller went from being in the lineup 75 percent of the time, to under 50 percent of the time. Miller wasn't producing in his appearances though. It took him until his eighth start of the year to produce a point, assisting on a goal during a Rangers win against Buffalo. He was getting steady starts, and scored four games later against Florida. (The goal really was the Rangers nicest of the season, and while Miller didn't have to do much, he was certainly rewarded for what was a strong game and stretch of play.)
Through this all, Miller was good, but not great. His overall Corsi% sat at an even 51 on the season, while his Corsi rel was a -2.4%.
The question with Miller up until now in his career is where does he fit? When there were injuries to key Rangers this season, plugging him in was quite logical. When there weren't, management was forced with either sticking him into a fourth line and diminished role, while possibly sacrificing opportunities for development. In 41 AHL games this season, Miller tallied 15 goals and 27 assists, making him more than a point-per-game player. Putting Miller's year into context really requires exploring his play in Hartford. It's strange to think that just two years ago, Miller was in the Rangers NHL lineup more times (26) than Chris Kreider (23).
If there was a time for Miller to really get his extended NHL tryout, with a chance to win a spot on the third line out of training, Miller has a great opportunity coming up later this summer.
But again, no one has or will ever question Miller's skill level, and if he has enough game to compete at the NHL level.
There's a lot that goes on behind closed doors, and there's an off-ice element to being a professional hockey player. When Miller was demoted to the minors late in the regular season, Alain Vigneault offered some pretty poignant comments about the top prospect.
Miller found his way back into the fold when the Rangers began to shake things up in the playoffs. Kreider was still on the shelf, and Miller, Derek Dorsett, and Daniel Carcillo cycled through a spot on the fourth line. In Miller's final appearance, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Canadiens, he was injured during the second period, and never returned. When the Rangers season ended after getting eliminated by the Kings in the Stanley Cup, Glen Sather told the media Miller would have continued to play had it not been for the injury. There's a clear difference though between spending time on the Rangers fourth line in the playoffs (especially when Hartford's season had already ended), than doing it consistently during the regular season, with a diminished role and minutes. Another wrinkle in this hole story soon becomes, when does Miller stop benefiting from playing in the AHL. As a point per game player, is Miller approaching a stage in his development where going up against minor league players?