Nobody was shocked when the New York Rangers announced they had bought out the remaining $20.667 million remaining on Brad Richards’ contract. However, the Rangers now have a hole at center and given the weak free agent class and high demand for impact players, they might not be able to afford a free agent center like Peter Statsny. The trade market has been rumored to possibly include Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton but it is likely the Rangers will look in-house to fill the roster void left by Richards up the middle.
This is where 21-year-old J.T. Miller comes in. Miller is a highly-touted prospect who saw some ice time with the team this year but performed well under Alain Vigneault’s standards. Miller appeared in 30 games this past season and tallied only three goals and six points. He seemed lost on most nights and Vigneault’s patience didn’t last long as he buried Miller, who averaged only 11:27 of ice time this past season.
Miller is not going to be a first-line center. However, the Rangers did see enough talent in him to make him their first-round pick, 15th overall, in the 2011 NHL Draft. They also thought highly enough to let him make his NHL debut at the age of 19 in 2012-13. Now, it will be up to Miller to prove he belongs. This is his opportunity to go out and grab the coaching staff’s attention and show them he does have the talent.
Nobody is asking for Miller to be perfect night in and night out. That is impossible. We have also seen Vigneault stick with Chris Kreider through his mistakes and saw Kreider take another step forward in the playoffs. Perhaps Miller can do the same. The Rangers are hoping he is ready for an increased role on this team. In fact, they might be counting on it.
If Miller shows he isn’t ready then it could be up to Oscar Lindberg, the 22-year-old Swedish center, to prove he is ready. Lindberg spent all of last season in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack and tallied 18 goals and 26 assists. Lindberg is a two-way center who wins faceoffs and has a knack for playing smart hockey.
With so many of their own free agents to sign, the Rangers need the younger players to make a push to not only make next season’s roster but be valuable contributors as well. For players like Miller and Lindberg it is put-up or shut-up time.