Let’s get right to the point, I don’t think J.T. Miller should be considered an option to replace Brad Richards as the third line center. I’m going to qualify my argument by saying that I think Miller will likely become a fringe top six player for the Rangers. He produced at a point per game pace in the AHL last season as a 20 year old and has the skating ability and physical strength to create space for himself at the NHL level. I’m fairly certain that he has the ability to be a third line center for the Rangers at some point in the near future, maybe even next year.
However, Miller carries considerable risk heading into next season and I don’t believe the Rangers are at a point in their organizational arc where they can afford the uncertainty. Especially since the market for third line free agent centers is relatively favorable this summer after the buyout of Mike Ribeiro and Mathieu Perreault not being qualified. The Rangers will lose Anton Stralman and likely not be able to find an adequate replacement; largely because the right handed defenseman market is very thin. They’ve lost Richards, but they have quite a few options to replace his 2.0 points per 60 minutes from last season.
Why roll the dice on Miller to replace that production when there a couple different, affordable options available to the Rangers that provide greater certainty? Options that produced at 2.0 P/60 or greater last season? Not doing so has the potential for a self-inflicted wound that could be devastating. What if Derek Stepan or Derick Brassard are injured for any extended period of time next year? Suddenly Miller is your second line center with Oscar Lindberg and Dominic Moore in the bottom six. That’s not an ideal scenario that could very likely happen.
The case for having Miller as the Rangers third line center next season suffers from a small sample size. It’s part of the reason I was annoyed with Alain Vigneault for constantly sending Miller back to Hartford instead of seeing what the team had in him at the NHL level last season. He’s an unknown quantity as a result. He only played 30 games last season and was used sparingly playing less than 12 minutes a game. Even if Miller produced in those limited minutes, which he didn’t, the argument would still be the same. The Rangers can’t afford to give Miller the third line center job heading into training camp.
Note: This article was originally published July 1st, just prior to the open of free agency. It was mostly lost in the shuffle of the day’s mayhem. However, it is arguably more relevant now than it was before Glen Sather botched day one of free agency.