The New York Rangers have some holes to fill before they embark on their next campaign in the 2014-15 season. After losing defenseman Anton Stralman to free agency, the Rangers responded by signing veteran blueliner Dan Boyle. Besides that, the Rangers have yet to fully address the bigger issue, which is at the center position. With the departure of Brian Boyle and the buyout of Brad Richards, the Rangers are suddenly thin at center, a position that they were particularly deep at last season.
The obvious hole at center raises the question — can young J.T. Miller finally take the next step and slide into a third-line center role? Miller is just 21, but the word finally is used because Miller has been bouncing back and forth between the Rangers and their AHL affiliate for a few years now.
Miller might not get a better chance to be in New York’s every night lineup than he’ll get next season, but what kind of role will it be? He should at least get the chance in training camp to showcase his skills at center. Miller’s more of a natural center iceman, but his youth and the depth of New York’s center position the last few seasons hasn’t allowed it. Miller served as a winger for the blueshirts last season, but might get the chance to move to the middle now that Richards and Boyle are gone and haven’t been replaced yet.
There have been plenty of rumors involving the Rangers attempting to trade for a center or turning to free agency, but New York’s money is pretty limited this offseason and who do they honestly have to trade? The Rangers would rather have somebody in house step up instead of spending money to sign a free agent, but there are definitely some uncertainties.
Another question looming is how effective and consistent Miller will be at the center position. He has a good skill set, decent speed and a big enough body to grow into an NHL center, but is he ready right now to make that jump? He’s made great plays in a Ranger uniform before, but he’ll need to show consistency in order to be New York’s every game third center.
Head coach Alain Vigneault has to consider the possibilities that can arise down the road. Miller might not play as well as the Rangers are hoping and expecting. The bigger and scarier scenario to plan ahead for is the injury factor. If Miller is New York’s third-line center with Dominic Moore centering the fourth line, that leaves them very thin if anyone gets injured. It would make the health of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan extremely important.
Stepan and Brassard are New York’s top two centers, and would need to stay healthy to maintain any depth at all. If one goes down and Miller has to step up to the second line, the Rangers will be in trouble at the second most important position (goaltender’s first).
Whether Miller likes it or not, coaches have to plan ahead expecting at least a few injuries to occur during a long regular season. That might be what ultimately keeps Miller from being a center this season, but he will certainly get his chances to play regardless of the position. Miller has time to prove to his coaches and teammates that he can take on more responsibility and is capable of playing center at the NHL level.