With the World Cup Of Hockey approaching, the New York Rangers will have a few representatives we can keep an eye on.
Three of them -- Henrik Lundqvist, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh — are playing for all the reasons you’d want to play. National pride, getting geared up for the season and wanting to win the World Cup, of course.
For J.T. Miller (who will be playing for team North America) there might be another motive: An audition for a role in New York this year.
Jeff Gorton might not be done with his work this offseason, but in the event he is, he’s left the organization with about 15 forwards for 12 spots. Miller isn’t going to be one of the players fighting for a roster spot, but he most likely will be fighting for a bigger role within the roster.
For example: Does Alain Vigneault finally end the Jesper Fast top-six experiment? If so who does he move into that vacancy in the top six?
Miller has a pretty good claim for that spot. With 22 goals and 21 assists last year, Miller was one of the brightest spots on a roster that simply wasn’t good enough. Even still, Miller’s time in the top six was far and few between.
The additions of Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey obviously complicate things here, too. Because while you’d love to see both of them immediately contribute on a top-line level, you’re more than likely going to see both on the third line. Although if we’re being totally honest, I do think Buchenvich can work his way into that vacancy by the start of the year. Remember, he’s not some kid coming out of juniors and floating around, he’s been successful the past few years in the second best men’s hockey league in the world.
Miller obviously wants to claim that spot for himself. And the World Cup might be a really good opportunity for him to show he’s ready to go before the season begins. Ironically enough, you can make an argument that team North America is the most talented team in the tournament, and Miller’s spot on that team seems to be up for debate as well.
I mean seriously, look at this roster:
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers; Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres;Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames; Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche; Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI); Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers; J.T. Miller, New York Rangers; Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers; Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers; Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets; Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets; Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues; Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs; Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
There’s a lot of talent there, and a slew of players who have already reached the next level for their respective teams. You can add Miller to the list of “breaking out youth in the NHL” but him making a statement on this team would go a long way for him making a statement on Broadway.
I see Miller assuming a bottom-six role on team North America, hopefully on the third line. Miller’s overall game had gotten a lot better, but I’m not sure I see him playing a fourth-line defensive role — if that’s how they set things up. You just hope he doesn’t find himself rotating as the extra.
Fresh off signing a new bridge deal to keep himself on Broadway for two more years, this might be Miller’s first shot at making a first impression. It’s on a different stage, but all that matters is that he forces the spotlight to fall on him.