New York Rangers‘ first-rounder of 2011, JT Miller, has shown a lot of promise in the 2013-14 season. He plays a complete game on both ends of the ice with the ability to score and set up plays on offense while also being responsible defensively in his own zone. The most similar player that Rangers fans could compare him to would be former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky, now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. With that comparison, fans should be aware that Miller is more polished offensively and less physical than Dubinsky. Miller is amongst the top 5 scorers for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack, despite playing in half as many games as the scorers above him. He has scored 10 goals and 26 points in 24 games this season for the Wolfpack and has had several cups of coffee with the NHL squad, playing a total of 25 games.
Miller’s season is similar to the situation current Rangers forward Chris Kreider was in last year. Kreider is incredibly talented but did not make the Rangers out of training camp. He played 48 games for the Connecticut Whale (now the Wolfpack), starting off slowly before picking up his offensive production. He was called up to New York on several occasions but failed to play well enough to stay with the club fill time, in part due to John Tortorella‘s short leash and constant juggling of the lines. This year has seen Kreider’s level of play jump tremendously in part thanks to new head coach Alain Vigneault. Vigneault’s patient approach has let Kreider settle into the NHL life and learn what is required to be a successful player at the highest level. He has developed chemistry with teammates Derek Stepan and Rick Nash on the first line, often being the most visible of the three with his speed and physical play. Kreider is one of the top rookies this season and has a shot at the Calder Trophy.
Vigneault’s patience can pay off for Miller in the 2014-15 season. There are several free agents on the current squad who may not be retained, and Miller can come into training camp to fight for one of those spots. There are other talented prospects such as Oscar Lindberg who he would be fighting with for a spot on the top club, but Miller’s work ethic and overall ability to play in any situation could make him a favorite to make the team. Allowing Miller to groom into an NHL role with protected minutes on a line with veteran NHL players can help his development immensely. While the team may not see the offensive production it’s getting out of Kreider, they will see yet another homegrown talent turn into an NHL player. With the looming buyout of Brad Richards, another NHL-level center will be required at the top level of the club. This could be the opportunity that Miller seizes to start his NHL career.