It is hard to believe at times that J.T. Miller is only 22-years-old and in the middle of his second full season, partially due to making his debut during the 2012-13 campaign. Miller’s career has been a series of trials and tribulations, whle this season he’s made some positives strides.
The Rangers first round pick from the 2011 draft started turning heads during the 2015 playoffs on a line that included Rick Nash and Derick Brassard. He finished the playoffs with with a goal and seven assists for eight points, and was a dominant possession player, having a Corsi For percentage of 53.1.
In many ways, it was his breakout performance that illustrated he could be more than a simple bottom six, two-way player. Miller has shown true signs of growth in most areas of his game, and the coaching staff has rewarded him accordingly. He has played 13:01 a game, an increase from the 12:42 he averaged in 2014-15 and the 11:27 he averaged the season before.
The East Palestine, Ohio native has graduated from being a fringe player, something he was during his first season under John Tortorella, and initially under Alain Vigneault. In April 2014, Vigneault famously said, “He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis. He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.”
That may have been true in April 2014. But in December 2015, Miller has cemented a role in the lineup. Through 36 games, Miller has scored seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points. This is a goals-per-game average of 0.19 (+0.02 from last season), an assists-per-game average of 0.28 (+0.06 from last season) and a points-per-game average of 0.47, which is 0.07 points more than 2014-15.
Looking at Miller’s career season-by-season totals you will see that he has continually trended up, which is a promising sign for the Rangers.
This breakdown is a fairer representation of the player Miller presently is, and has the potential to become. What has been most promising about Miller this season is the maturation of his offensive game, partly because he was drafted as a two-way player.
Miller still struggles with faceoffs, but it hasn’t been as much of an issue this season, as he’s bounced between playing center, left wing and right wing. In some respects the experimentation has been beneficial, as it has added depth to Miller as a player. This has been especially helpful on the power play, an area in which he has gained a boost.
He spends an average of 1:08 per game on the man-advantage, an increase from the 0:53 a game he spent there in 2014-15. He has one power play point to date, a goal vs. the Boston Bruins, but he certainly has shown that he has the skills to make an impact when given the opportunity. Overall, Miller’s emergence has been a breath of fresh air, and has enabled him to pull of plays like the one below without thinking twice.
Miller is willing to take chance and make mistakes because he knows that he has the room to do it. In previous years, he became closely acquainted with Greyhound buses as he bounced between New York City and Hartford, but now Miller is here for the long haul. Coaches will continue to chastise him if he makes repeated mistakes, but getting demoted to the AHL is something that no longer will weigh on his mind.
At the end of the season Miller will be looking for a raise from his current rate of $874,000, as he’s an restricted free agent who will need a new contract. Right now that is something that is probably in the back of the minds of general manager Jeff Gorton and Miller himself, but it is something to be aware of as the season progresses.
The future is still very bright for Miller, and he hasa ton of experience for a 22-year-old. The best is likely yet to come and he remains a bright spot for a Rangers squad that has regressed mightily after an amazing start to the season that included a nine-game win streak.
This year was supposed to be about Hayes and Kreider taking the next steps, but Miller has taken the puck and run with it. That is something he should be commended for.
Stats via Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.