With 12 NHL forwards already under contract and Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello still to re-sign, it’s been difficult to figure out where youngsters like Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast might fit in next season. Injuries to Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan could loosen the rotation for the first few weeks of the season, but there will still be a glut of forwards fighting for playing time.
Miller and Kreider are presumed to be the two prospects most likely to secure top-12 roles given that both already have some NHL experience and have had at least a little success. However, recent comments by both players could indicate that this might not really be the case.
Miller played his last game with the Rangers on April 1st and though he finished the season with the CT Whale, Gordie Clark admitted that if not for Miller’s nagging wrist injury he would have been with the Rangers during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite over three full months to recover, Miller told Blueshirts United last week that his wrist still isn’t 100% healed. Miller pooh-poohed his current condition and told Jim Cerny that the injury hasn’t affected his offseason training regimen or prevented him from playing five rounds of golf a week this summer, but Miller also admitted that the injury got so bad last spring that it, “got to the point I was making more mistakes than normal (because of the wrist).”
Kreider began the 2012-2013 campaign with the CT Whale and struggled to find his rhythm, partially due to a painful bone chip in his ankle suffered from blocking a shot that caused Kreider to miss a week of action early on and plagued him all year. Like Miller, Kreider also recently told Cerny that his ankle still isn’t 100%.
Both players claimed that their injuries are improving and that they expect to be ready to go come training camp, but we’re now only six weeks away and both Miller and Kreider remain bothered by the same injuries that hindered their performances last spring.
Those aren’t the greatest circumstances for either player to be dealing with heading into what is set to be an ultra competitive roster battle at camp. Ideally for players as young as Miller and Kreider, the offseason should be used to continue gaining strength and growing into their bodies on the ice. With physical obstacles standing in the way of that, perhaps it’d be best for both Miller and Kreider to start the season in the American League. It’s not that Miller and Kreider won’t be able to help the Blueshirts this season or should be overlooked in favor of veterans, but it might be the best short-term solution to the roster logjam and the right decision for the long-term development of two prized prospects.