Chris Kreider missed Wednesday night's victory at Madison Square Garden vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, and according to the team's Twitter, he will miss the New York Rangers' upcoming four-game Western Conference swing.
Kreider has been sensational for the Blueshirts in his first official rookie season, and his 37 points in 66 games is going to be hard to replace.
The Rangers had the option of inserting recent college signee Ryan Haggerty into the lineup because of his NHL size and shot. However, head coach Alain Vigneault opted to use J.T. Miller instead, and he's the right fit to replace Kreider for numerous reasons.
For starters: Miller doesn't belong in the AHL anymore. In 35 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Miller has tallied 12 goals and 25 helpers for 37 points. It is clear as day that he can score, and playing him in the AHL could stunt his growth by developing false confidence through besting inferior competition.
In The Hockey News' most recent "Prospect Watch" issue, Miller was named the 23rd-best prospect in the entire NHL. On THN's website, it had this to say about Miller:
Assets: Has a wealth of speed and offensive acumen, the versatility to play center or wing, as well as the size and grit to play a power forward's game. Flaws: Needs to get bigger and physically stronger in order to excel at playing his in-your-face style at the highest level. Also needs to work on his playmaking. Career Potential: Talented and versatile scoring forward with good upside.
With that report in mind, here is the next reason why Miller was the right player to fill in for Kreider during his absence.
Miller has solid size at 6'1" and 205 pounds, and he is also an amazing skater. It took fans some time to get used to seeing Miller sport Marian Gaborik's old No. 10 sweater, but the two forwards share the ability to skate smoothly and quickly.
Vigneault is a coach who likes to let offense breath, but he wants his players to be committed to defense as well. Luckily for Miller, he is already a solid defensive player. He knows how to use his stick wisely, he is adept at taking the body, forechecking and his shot blocking abilities would make former bench boss John Tortorella proud.
While Miller's defensive game makes him a solid fit for the type of system Vigneault is using in New York, his offensive talents and abilities make him a decent fit as well.
During his OHL days with the Plymouth Whalers, Miller fancied himself as an offensive player. In 61 games Miller found the twine 25 times, and he assisted his teammates on 37 separate occasions for a total of 62 points.
Miller has spent a whopping total of 55 games in the NHL, and during that time, he has scored five goals and recorded five assists. During Miller's limited NHL experience, he has illustrated that he has some creativity and offensive skill, and that is something that Kreider brought to the top line.
Vigneault decided to bump Martin St. Louis into Kreider's spot against the Flyers, but Miller looked fine on a line with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin. During the game, Miller was able to generate some offensive chances, including a solid effort on a forecheck that ultimately resulted in a goal by Ryan McDonagh.
Miller only took a shot on goal, but other than that, he had a solid game. Over the next few games Miller will get more comfortable, and there's a chance we will see him attempt things like he did in the video below.
It is evident that Miller has solid vision and smooth hands, but he just needs some more time at the NHL level to perfect them. He already has a solid defensive game that makes him a serviceable third-line forward.
If he can sustain his offense like he has shown in the past, that could be the difference in him becoming the second-line power forward who replaces the role formerly occupied by Ryan Callahan.
Wednesday night was only game one for Miller back in the lineup, but look for him to make the most of this opportunity while Kreider is out of the lineup. When on his game, Miller is a threat in all three zones, and it is only a matter of time before he is a regular NHL mainstay for the Broadway Blueshirts.
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