With apologies to Taylor Pyatt, the forward roster last night finally resembled the one Ranger fans were so excited about over the summer.
The lineup didn’t include J.T. Miller, but coach Alain Vigneault insisted yesterday that Miller would be back on the ice with the Blueshirts soon. But barring further injuries, the team’s top-six is clearly set, and Miller will likely be stuck with fourth-line minutes even when he does play.
In fact, Miller hasn’t played more than 9:14 in any of his last six games dating back to November 2, just after Carl Hagelin’s return. In the nine games before that, Miller had averaged 13:17, a pretty big number for a young player. But as Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Dominic Moore and finally Rick Nash were reinserted into the lineup, Miller’s ice-time dipped lower and lower until he was finally sent to the press box.
As the Rangers should have learned with Chris Kreider, it’s foolish to keep a player in the NHL when he clearly isn’t ready. Just a few weeks in the AHL can go a long way – remember, Kreider had an awful training camp, but played like a man possessed after being recalled a month later. Miller still has a very bright future in New York, and he might even have a major role to play this season. But keeping him around to play so little or not at all is the wrong decision.
Injuries limited Vigneault’s options for much of the season, but the Rangers’ new coach now has plenty of able players to choose from. Pyatt is nearly ready to return, and though he’s played poorly, it’s still smarter to use him for a handful of minutes on the fourth line than stifle Miller’s development in that role. Vigneault could also recall Brandon Mashinter, who has been steady if unspectacular in six games with New York this season, or Darroll Powe, who had a tremendous training camp and is off to a very good start with the Wolf Pack.
None of those players are nearly as intriguing for Rangers fans, but they’re proven NHL grinders that can easily handle eight minutes a game just as well (if not better) than Miller. Guys like Pyatt, Mashinter and Powe don’t stand to gain from time in Hartford at this point in their careers, but 20 minutes a night in the minors for a couple months could make all the difference for Miller down the stretch, and into the future.