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Analyzing J.T. Miller's Dominant Opening Night Game

J.T. Miller impressed during the first game of the NHL season. Let's take a deeper look.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

You don't need me to remind you that J.T. Miller had two assists in the New York Rangers opening night win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sometimes stats can be misleading in regards to assists, but Miller was a critical part of both goals he helped set up. Let's take a closer look at what he was able to do against the defending champs.

We'll start, of course, with the first goal of the game -- scored by Oscar Lindberg.

The play opens up with the Rangers moving into the zone on a 3-on-2. Viktor Stalberg has just passed the puck to Miller, who is breaking into the zone. The Chicago defense is playing this the right way to this point, keeping themselves facing the puck and trying to eat up as much free space as possible.

Stalberg attacks the middle, forcing Trevor Van Riemsdyk (circled) to choose between covering Miller with the puck or allowing Stalberg to attack the slot unchecked. He ends up covering Stalberg. Lindberg does the same thing, pulling Trevor Daley to the right, creating space for Miller with the puck. The green square shows the open ice Miller is about to utilize.

This slide is a little busy but it's important. It should be noted Miller tried to play the puck to a streaking Stalberg, but it hit Van Riemsdyk's skate and bounced back to him. Not missing a beat, Miller beasts through the checks and locates an open Lindberg. The red lines mark all four Chicago defenders looking at the puck, while Lindberg has been lost in coverage (he's Daley's man and look at where Daley is facing). The green lines show how small the lane was for Miller to make a pass.

The pass is right on Lindberg's tape, which is vital because Lindberg only has a split second to let the puck go before Corey Crawford recovers. Because Miller's pass is so perfect look at all the space Lindberg has to work with in the net. The green arrow shows the direction Daley is facing and he tries helplessly to recover in time to help. Lindberg, of course, didn't miss and buried his first NHL goal.

The whole play is below (from, go visit and subscribe, guys!).

The second goal (scored by Kevin Klein) was also a product of a great series of plays from Miller.

The start of this play is really important, and it shows just how smart Miller is in the offensive zone. The Rangers are holding the puck while Chicago is being called for a delayed penalty. Miller, recognizing Chicago is pressing to get a stoppage, moved himself to space. Klein has the puck here and is passing it to Miller (circled) -- who moves to the open area of the ice (represented by the green rectangle).

Miller takes the pass and skates with it down the boards, pulling all three Chicago defenders in the area to him. Again, notice the red lines, that's the sightline of every Chicago player on the ice and they're all facing him. Miller flips the puck to Mats Zuccarello once (I believe it's Marian Hossa) gets too close. Notice the green rectangle, again showing the space Miller has opened up with his puck movement.

Zuccarello flips the puck to Miller who waits a beat to pull the rest of the defense and then moves the puck to an open Keith Yandle (he's not in the picture but he's where the green arrow is pointing). This slide is important because Miller holding the puck forces everyone to keep focusing on him. Only the two low defenders are watching the play develop and they're too far to do anything.

This slide doesn't have anything to do with Miller directly but it's happening because of Miller's play. Miller moved the puck to a wide open Yandle, who fakes a shot (pulling all of Chicago's attention to him) and feeds a wide open Klein who scores. No one on Chicago even notices Klein sliding down the zone, and Yandle makes a perfect pass to allow that to happen. But this play is created by Miller originally shifting the space on the ice and using it to his advantage.

The whole video -- once again, as seen on -- is below:

Miller is poised for a breakout year in my book. I think he has all the tools to be a special player in this league and he did some big things against a damn good hockey team Wednesday night.

Hopefully there's more where that came from.