The time has come where the Rangers need to make a decision on rookie J.T. Miller. Miller played his fifth game last night, and once he plays his sixth game, the first year of his entry-level deal will count. If the Rangers send him back to the AHL, and do not use him for a single NHL game for the rest of the year, including the playoffs, then his deal will slide once more. If his deal slides, then his initial ELC won’t expire until after the 2015-2016 season. If he plays one more game, it expires a year early.
With the new CBA, the salary cap is going to drop to $64.3 million next season, and likely drop again the season following. This puts additional strain on the Rangers, who have three key RFAs (Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh) this season. The added cost certainty of Miller’s ELC will go a long way to keeping the core pieces in blue.
That said, the Rangers have shown that they are not afraid to begin burning years of ELCs. They burned a year of Chris Kreider’s ELC last season during the playoff run. The result was a jolt of youth and speed into the lineup and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kreider’s ELC will now expire at the end of the 2013-2014 campaign, instead of at the end of the 2014-2015 campaign.
The same thought process will apply to Miller. If the Rangers feel he is ready to continue at the NHL level –and can find a good amount of top-nine minutes– then he will stay at the NHL level. If they feel he is best working on his development in the AHL, then they will send him down.
In five games, Miller has two goals and a +2 rating. He looked good on a line with Kreider and Ryan Callahan, and looked good on a line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt. The kid adds a good amount of speed and skill to the bottom six that is lacking without him in the lineup.
Looking at the #fancystats (note: small sample size plays a role in this), Miller is playing to a 1.0 GVT (0.6 OGVT, 0.5 DGVT) in his first five games. Side note: I don’t know why his GVT isn’t 1.1, but it isn’t. If you prorate that over an 82 game season, that comes out to a whopping 16.4 GVT, which is slightly insane. When it comes to PVT, that’s an additional 5.5 points in the standings. For more on GVT/PVT, read the Metrics We Use page.
But Miller’s #fancystats get rather ugly when we dive into Quality of Competition, Corsi, and Offensive Zone starts (after a whistle). Miller is playing extremely sheltered minutes. The only forward playing against weaker competition among the top-nine forwards is Chris Kreider. Miller’s -.132 QoC alone just shows sheltered playing time, but his -27.9 (!!) RCorsi* shows that he’s not even close to maintaining puck possession at all. Add in his 71.4% offensive zone starts (after a whistle) and you get a player that appears to be struggling a bit.
*-I’ve had some people tweet to me that they don’t quite understand RCorsi. I’ll go into more detail tomorrow, but it’s a puck possession metric that measure shot attempts (blocked, missed, saved, goals) for versus shot attempts against. A positive number usually means that the team has more shot attempts taken then their opponents with the player on the ice. A negative number means more shot attempts against while the player is on the ice. The theory is that if your team is taking more shot attempts, then you have puck possession more.
We are victims of small sample size with Miller, but the numbers themselves show an extreme lean to a player that might be struggling a bit more than we realize. We saw Miller and his struggles against Boston earlier this week, and one game would definitely be enough to skew the numbers in such a small sample size. After all, that game represents a 20% weight on the current metrics.
Considering what Miller brings to the lineup –an infusion of skill, youth, and speed to the bottom six– the Rangers are probably best served keeping him around for some games. Miller isn’t having the same impact on the lineup that Carl Hagelin did last year, but it’s no coincidence that the Rangers look better and deeper with him in the lineup.
It wouldn’t shock me to see Miller sit out the game this weekend to see how the team performs with a rejuvenated Boyle alongside Kreider and Pyatt. This would result in getting the full spectrum of their options. If the Rangers can keep Miller and Kreider without affecting their development (as in, shifting some players to the fourth line or out of the lineup), then they will likely explore this option until –if– some major roadblocks occur.