J.T. Miller has areas to improve before he gets full-time roster spot

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Updated: April 8, 2014
Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers

J.T. Miller just can’t seem to stay in the big leagues. The 21-year-old center has been sent back to the New York Rangers AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack, six times this season. He was also brought up from the AHL several times last year, but just can’t seem to stay in the Rangers line up. This last call up, on March 26, was to ostensibly put him in as a replacement for Chris Kreider who is out indefinitely with a hand injury, but he was sent right back to Hartford after only two games and replaced by Dan Carcillo.

Originally drafted in 2011 as the Rangers first round draft pick, 15th overall, this season he’s played in 30 games in which he’s scored three goals and thre assists with the Rangers. In his 38 games with the Wolfpack this season he’s racked up 13 goals and 26 assists, for 39 points so it seems pretty clear to me that the kid can score. The most recent “Prospect Watch” issue of The Hockey News listed Miller as being the 23rd best prospect in the NHL. They listed his assets as including speed and being versatile as he’s able to be used as either a center or forward. At 6’1” and 205lbs he’s not huge, but isn’t as miniscule as everyone’s favorite hobbit Matts Zuccarello. So what seems to be the problem?

Last February, the Rangers former coach, John Tortorella said about Miller, “he has an arrogance about him. Some strut about him. I worry that it will go to the other side, and it has in certain situations. I like the kid. He isn’t afraid, he isn’t afraid to make something happen on the ice. The ice time he is getting and why he is here is because he deserves to be here. He is learning how we play defense, for a young kid it’s always you can’t hurt us. I like the way he carries himself as long as he stays on the right side of the line.”

Tortorella also said, “he is still a dummy sometimes, but he continues to try and make a difference. He has an aggressive mindset that we need to watch, but I would rather have it that way. That is a good sign for a kid.” So maybe it’s an issue of maturity.

This past December, Jim Schoenfield said, “J.T. Miller is learning to play away from the puck because it’s too risky and the coach doesn’t feel comfortable enough to put him on the ice in certain situations.”

And then just last week the Ranger’s head coach, Alain Vigneault was quoted as saying, “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. J.T. has to figure it out and hopefully he will. When he does, we’re going to have a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be a good minor league player.”

Earlier in the season Vigneault said he saw potential in Miller; that he has a solid skill set but needs to work to get better and from everything I’ve seen going on in Hartford, Miller is their top line center and appears to being quite well there. So is it that he’s not mature enough on and off the ice? Is it that he’s just not working hard enough to please Vigneault?

In my opinion, sending him back and forth isn’t doing Miller any favors in helping him develop into the type of player Vigneault thinks he should be to earn him a permanent spot in the Rangers line up. How is he supposed to get comfortable playing in the NHL unless he’s given a chance to play more than a few games at a time? Some may perceive Vigneault’s words as being incredibly harsh or were hoping that they were said largely to be motivational. Maybe it was just AV trying to motivate the kid to work harder, but I don’t perceive his words to be harsh at all.

I of course have no idea what Miller’s off-ice commitment may be, but as a young player he needs to be putting as much effort as possible into everything he’s doing including acting in a responsible fashion when he’s away from the rink. I know that sounds like a lot to ask from a 21-year-old, especially when you consider that most kids his age in this country are currently boozing it up on their spring breaks and/or acting in an otherwise irresponsible fashion at colleges around the country.

However, Miller has chosen a very different career path than many of his peers, and in doing so, needs to realize that the window of opportunity for a professional athlete to maximize on their talents and achieve all they can is incredibly small. If Vigneault is perceiving him as not putting in enough effort and not taking hockey and the NHL as seriously as he should be, Miller needs to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure he has a permanent spot on the team or risk wallowing in the AHL and continuing to go back and forth between the minors and the big league.

Now having said all that, one of the arguments against Vigneault during the Rangers search for a new coach last summer was his alleged unfair treatment of young players with his former team in Vancouver. There’s a chance this could just be more of the same from Vigneault, although Miller has appeared to have a few issues on the ice during games. We all saw how long it took Kreider to get it together and earn his roster spot, Miller is almost two years younger and maybe he needs some more time to mature.

Whatever the problem is, Miller better figure it out quick or risk spending his best playing days in the AHL.

 

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