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Hayes And Miller’s Growth Vital To Rangers’ Success

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Edmonton Oilers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There’s been a long list of surprises so far this year.

  • Michael Grabner
  • Nick Holden’s early explosion of offense
  • Jimmy Vesey’s early goal-scoring tear
  • Brady Skjei’s offensive production (reminder: I am a fool)
  • Pavel Buchnevich being far more NHL polished than I thought he would be

Here’s two things that have been pleasant but were also somewhat expected (even if only expected optimistically): The growth of J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes.

Right now both players are on pace to get dangerously close to 70 points on the year. While the bridge deal each signed will sting next summer when Jeff Gorton has to pull out his wallet, right now (and next year) they’re on ridiculously friendly contracts.

We’ve seen people claim Hayes went through a sophomore slump last year, but the numbers argue otherwise. Hayes is one of the top primary point producers in the NHL over the past three years. He ranks 27th in the NHL in PP/60 (primary points per 60 — which is goals and first assists only) with a 2.02. (Rick Nash, by the way, is 13th with a 2.20). Those stats were pulled for all situations.

That play has carried over to this season as well. Of the 148 forwards to play 660+ even strength minutes this year Miller ranks 33rd and Hayes ranks 37th. Both are on pace to shatter career highs in both goals and assists and both have been vital to the Rangers success to this point in the season.

Possession wise the numbers aren’t great. Miller (45% corsi) and Hayes (43% corsi) are at the bottom of the list; although it’s worth stating that the Rangers only have four regular forwards above 50% (Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan) and just one defenseman (Adam Clendening).

On the podcast Wednesday night we discussed how much of an impact Grabner’s success had had on both Miller and Hayes (since that line has been together a good portion of the season). We all agreed for the most part that Grabner had been a positive infusion -- although I argued Grabner would score on any line right now because he creates his own chances with his speed.

The speed is part of the reason why I’m not overly concerned with this particular line’s lack of possession (Grabner himself is only sporting a 44% corsi). I think it’s because this group generates so much high-octane chances (odd-man rushes or long breakout passes) that the puck either ends up in the back of the net or comes back the other way quickly. It’s a live by the sword die by the sword mentality, but there’s no denying how well the three of them are walking this tightrope. Henrik Lundqvist returning to form helps when the puck comes the other way, too.

The Rangers offense started the year at a historical pace, predictably slowed and now has sort of balanced itself as one of the most lethal forward groups in the league. Grabner’s 26 goals aside, the Rangers are running on a series of growth contributions. Kreider is already at a career high in goals, Jimmy Vesey has added 13 of his own, Buchnevich (when he plays) has 15 points in 24 games, Skjei has 25 points (just seven behind Ryan McDonagh) and Nick Holden (who has also tapered off (still has eight tallies of his own).

The Rangers are getting offense from everywhere, but the increased producing of Miller (who leads the team with 46 points) and Hayes (right behind him with 42) are obviously one of the biggest parts of it.

Just like the organization wanted.