In the coming days, we're profiling some of the new faces who will be a part of the Rangers this year. Get familiar! If you missed them, here are the player's we've previewed thus far: Dan Boyle here, Lee Stempniak here and Matthew Lombardi here, and Tanner glass here.
There comes a point in the developmental arc of any prospect that they move up a tier. When playing against the level of competition they previously were does nothing to further the player's growth, and they need to be promoted to the next level simply to keep the player's development moving forward.
For J.T. Miller, Hartford and the AHL will no longer a viable option when it comes to keeping the train moving in Miller's development. For the 21-year-old, it's NHL or bust, and really, the NHL is where he needs to be.
Let's get one thing out of the way right now: Miller is not a failure. As a 21-year-old, it's incredibly difficult to be a failure. Maybe his progression into an NHL role has taken longer than most expected. The former No. 15 overall pick (taken in the 2011 Draft) has played a combined 56 NHL games in parts of two seasons. For the most part, he's been honing his craft on the Rangers' AHL affiliate. A year ago, Miller was more than a point-a-game player for the Wolf Pack, where he made it abundantly clear: He has nothing left to prove at the AHL level.
And that's perhaps why, it shouldn't have come as a surprise Glen Sather revealed during the Rangers' break-up day that if not for an upper body injury suffered against the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final, Miller would have stayed in New York's lineup. He's a dynamic offensive talent, dangerous with the puck on his stick, and capable of both making plays for himself, or setting up his teammates. He's deadly around the net, where all five of his NHL goals have come from. And more to the point, he's probably one of the Rangers 12 best options at the forward position.
The logical fit for Miller would be on the third line. He spent the bulk of his limited NHL time last season with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot. He also played just over 70 minutes with Carl Hagelin, where his numbers were considerably better versus when he was without the speedster. Both players can push the pace, while Hagelin generally does well to open up space for his teammate, something a skill player like Miller needs (and thrives with).
Other AHL musings
In addition to Miller, there's a small group of Hartford forwards who will be in the conversation come training camp. The names you'll hear the most are likely Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo, and Connor Allen (in no particular order).
To begin with Allen, his chances at a legitimate roster spot depend on how the Rangers decide to proceed with Jonh Moore. If he gets a contract, Allen will be in Hartford. But if the Rangers decide to let Moore walk, and Allen gets to compete for the sixth defenseman job.
The lasting memories fans have of Fast may be his inconsistent start to the 2013-14 season, but Fast, who was coming over from Sweden, was still adjusting to a North American-style game, and looked much better in the latter parts of the season in Hartford. His wheels make him an interesting candidate in Alain Vigneault's system, and he certainly falls in the category of "a better option than Tanner Glass."
Don't have a whole lot to say about Kristo. Mike pretty much hit the nail on the head yesterday: "Despite this upcoming season being just his second full season playing professional hockey, Kristo is already 24 years old. So, he's 24 years old, a little bit undersized, he had issues staying healthy last season in Hartford, and he is apparently inconsistent and pretty lackluster away from the puck... not good."
Lindberg may be the biggest wildcard. Another Swedish import, Lindberg is a player that benefited from experience and gaining familiarity with a different style game as the season dragged on. As a natural center, Lindberg is a bit behind the proverbial eight ball with the talent ahead of him (including Miller) unless the team feels comfortable moving him to the wing. Much of that will be decided in camp.