The Ranger world was a tad shocked yesterday when the Rangers announced they were sending J.T. Miller to the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack. Many, myself included, thought that Jesper Fast would be returned to Hartford. One of the main reasons why Miller was sent to Hartford was to get him some solid ice time. Miller needs powerplay and penalty kill minutes, and he will not be able to get that in New York. He will get top-six minutes and prime special teams. However based on the first game’s stats, there are other reasons to support this move.
Based on the stats from Extra Skater, which is a great resource if you haven’t used them yet, Fast was actually the vastly superior player in the game against Phoenix on Thursday. It is something that should be taken with a grain of salt because we are victims of small sample size, but Fast had much better puck possession stats and zone starts. Fast started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, with zero offensive zone starts, and still managed to out-Corsi Miller.
To put numbers to this, Miller started 16.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, 16.7% of his shifts in the neutral zone, and 66.7% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Compared to Fast, who started 0% of his shifts in the offensive zone, 40% in the neutral zone, and 60% in the defensive zone. When you look at the CF% numbers for the game, Miller had a 31.3% CF%, while Fast had a whopping 61.5% CF%.
While the zone starts may not seem like much of a difference, the big thing to notice is that Fast did not start a single shift in the offensive zone. Despite this, Fast still drove puck possession in an impressive matter. It’s rare when you see a player that can drive possession to a 60% rate without starting a shift in the offensive zone.
Meanwhile Miller, who started a good number of shifts in the offensive zone, was in the negatives (the deep negatives) in CF%. It’s something that we noted as an issue last season, when Miller was one of the worst on the team in driving puck possession. We blamed that on sample size, and still do. Miller has played less than 30 games at the NHL level and can’t even legally buy a drink, he still has a lot of learning to do.
Let’s focus on the positives here: Despite Miller’s struggles, Fast has shown he can handle the defensive responsibilities and still drive puck possession. It is why we here love Carl Hagelin so much. It is rare when you can find a player that starts the majority of shifts in the defensive zone and still manages a positive CF%.
The moral of the story?
Based solely on one game Corsi and zone starts, Fast has been the better player and deserves to stay up with the Rangers. I have to admit, I did not do specific research prior to the demotion. Upon news of the demotion, I was surprised. After doing the research, I am not. Miller needs the minutes. Fast seems to have, at least in the short term, adapted well to the NHL game. If he continues to play at this level (with the Corsi rating relative to zone starts), it will be tough to cut the kid.