Hockey TacticsPlayers

What a move to center means for JT Miller

jt miller

As currently constructed, the Rangers have a decently sized hole at center. It’s the one major flaw of the roster right now that can’t be ignored. There are no names in free agency that make sense. There are some trade targets, but anyone worth while is going to cost an arm and a leg to acquire. The fix, as of now, appears to be internal, and one of the major names thrown out there is JT Miller, and shifting him back to center.

Miller was drafted as a center and played the position until he came to the Rangers. It was then that Alain Vigneault moved him to wing. On the surface, it made sense. Miller isn’t sound defensively, and AV requires a lot of defensive play from his centers. Even Martin St. Louis, one of the game’s greats, had trouble making the shift to center for a short period. There’s a good reason for that too.

AV has the team running a hybrid man/strong side overload in the defensive zone. It’s a basic overload/zone, but when the puck gets below the goal line, they switch to man coverage. They switch back to zone when the puck gets above the hash marks. This works properly when defensemen don’t chase beyond the hash marks, and more importantly centers have heads on a swivel to cover pass lanes to the slot. In essence, the center is the driver of the defensive zone coverage.

Strong Side Overload

The above image is the strong side overload. Miller would shift from F2 (or F3, depending on puck location) to F1. He’d be responsible for pressuring low and transitioning the team to offense. This is a big break from habit, as Miller has been covering the point or the weak side pass. Failure to pressure low could lead to miscommunications and open opponents.


When the puck is below the goal line, the Rangers shift to man on man coverage (pictured above). Notice F2 and F3 are still up high covering the points. F1, Miller’s new role, is in the slot, or wherever his man (the opposing center) is.

The biggest risk for the Rangers and Miller would be the transition to and from man-to-man. It can be incredibly confusing if you’re used to something completely different. For someone who has spent his Rangers career covering the point, he would need to quickly adjust to locating his man, sticking him when the puck is below the goal line, and pressuring the boards on the overload when the puck is above the goal line. It’s not an easy task.

Offensively, the biggest difference will be on breakouts. Usually, wingers will fly the zone, looking for the defense or a center to hit him with a pass. In the diagrams on the breakout page, Miller’s role is again F2 or F3. As F1, he would be looking to hit his wingers in stride. He has great offensive tools, but resisting the urge to fly the zone will be a tough transition. If he does move to center, there is going to be a big learning curve.

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  • I am sure all options are being discussed. Remember both players and coaches are professionals, and can adjust better than we think. If the moves don’t pan out, there are options.

    What is a bit troubling is the Mika negotiations. This may go close to the arbitration date. This is not the path that the NYR want their young star to take. If this does go to arbitration, we will be looking for multiple centerman next year.

    • “…coaches…can adjust better than we think”…um, AV has shown somewhat staggering ineptitude in this department in the past…just sayin’.

      • Yeah…. it’s very difficult (OK, impossible) to have faith in a coach who thinks 5 + 15 = championship……

  • The Rangers have to address the top 9, either with a center (preferable) or a scoring winger.

    The Rangers may have missed the boat on Cammalleri. The guy can still score and signed for $1M. Signing him would have allowed Miller to have a true scorer on his wing. Jagr and Vanek fit that as well.

    But if the Rangers can get Anisimov relatively cheaply trade cost wise then that’s the way to go. The Leafs appear to be intent on keeping Bozak or would ask a high trade cost, so no thanks if that’s the case.

    Minny may deal a center, so that is something to look at as well.

    • Chicago definitely looks to be in a tight spot on defense.

      Campbell just retired, so they’re real short on veteran blueliners.

      Right now they still have a top pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. After that, it’s a bit of a mess. They have both Connor Murphy and presumably Michael Roszival on the right side as their 2 and 3 RHD. But Roszival is hardly a sure thing at his age and with his injury issues in recent years (played only 22 games last season).

      Hawks are hoping Jan Rutta can slot into that bottom pairing on the right side, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing that Michael Kempny and Gustav Forsling are going to be able to guarantee stability down the left side.

      Picking up Nick Holden would be a smart move. If we can send a package that nets Anisimov, I’d be overjoyed.

      • AND, the Hawks need a lefty D man, one of the few teams that need a lefty.

        Puck moving, lefty D man (and cheap), sounds like Holden to me, lol.

  • This isn’t exactly rocket science of a flowchart.

    Do we have puck? Y/N

    If N, where is puck? Above/below goal line.

    Above? Go get it!!
    Below? Go to the slot, dummy!!

  • I believe Miller has the skill set- quickness, speed, aggressiveness, and the mindset- drive to net, carry puck with speed over blueline, set up teammates, retrieve puck from corners……that will give him success in this role…
    He outscored stepan last year while playing very limited PP minutes….Give him more of those minutes and we will soon forget stepan…..
    I would still like to see Anisimov back here for several reasons including Buchnevichs development…
    Cant wait till training camp!

    • Miller is terrible defensively, and at his best he’s a ridiculously streaky scorer. Part of a center’s responsibilities is consistent effort on both sides of the puck. JT takes dumb penalties, blows defensive coverages too often for a guy who’s been in the league this long, and is an inconsistent player in terms of effort, brains, and production.

      People are gonna find out quickly this year how hard it is to replace Stepan. Citing Miller’s good offensive production last year is relatively meaningless, as JT was horrendous down the stretch and even worse in the playoffs.

      • Major misconception regarding Stepans ‘ defense’…..Stepan has been TERRIBLE defensively the past few years! He hasn’t covered an opponent since his last concussion , and he runs from contact like its an ex-wife! He was responsible for 3 goals against us in this years playoffs….he stands around in the defensive zone and failed to cover his man in the slot twice and in the crease [ ot goal ]
        Years ago he may have been OK …….but not in a long while….
        Why do you think Crosby, Taveras, kuznetsov, backstrom always kill us ?
        Miller 22 goals ….20 even strength…only 21 penalty minutes
        stepan 17 goals…13 even strength…..17 penalty minutes
        AND in almost 100 playoff games logging most minutes and most PP minutes a grand total of 3 Game winning Goals!!!!!
        Yes he played with injuries and did nothing!

        • Playing hurt = leadership
          Scoring game 7 OT goals = clutch

          1 goal in 40 playoff games = JT Miller

        • “Major misconception regarding Stepans ‘ defense’…..Stepan has been TERRIBLE defensively the past few years!….”

          Rich, with all due respect, your narrative doesn’t gel with what has actually happened the last few years with him.

          I’ve shown you this before – while the guy was out on the ice (versus top competition, no less), the team outscored the opposition 3 – 2 at 5 on 5 throughout the entire season.

          Sure, it’s like you said – his 5 on 5 scoring, despite the previously stated information, isn’t pretty…… but his opponents’ numbers are even worse! ….

          Defensively, Miller wishes he could be Stepan for just one period a game, as that would represent a significant improvement! That’s not an opinion (well, most of it’s not)

          Also, Miller has been downright atrocious in the playoffs thus far, whereas Stepan was/is a career ~.47 PPG player in the postseason.

          Granted, he’s younger & may still improve, but as it stands today…. Stepan’s defensive game being far better than Miller’s is irrefutable & I don’t understand where you’re getting this from.

          • Dog,
            I cannot explain the ‘defensive stats’ for stepan. But I watch the games and see a player who does NOT cover his man frequently in the slot or near the net , two prime scoring areas. He seems so afraid of contact that he stands a few feet away and watches, or tries a stick check. He left his man open and two scored in the ottowa series and one in the montreal series. 100 % his fault! He was 5 feet away each time instead of putting a body on his man. His effort on defense is atrocious, I see it every game. He also has a plus 19 , but is that his doing or because he plays with kreider and zucc……two quick, fast, effort guys?

          • I can’t explain it either, but the numbers don’t lie.

            Nor is it some one-off anomaly, as he has performed this well for a few years now.

            Like I’ve said, if he had 8-10 more points a year, he’d be considered elite. If he had 15-25 more, his face might be on the cover of the video game they make.

            And it’s not from the presence of Kreider or Zuc (although they are both very good), as he has performed this well with other linemates as well.

            For some reason, whatever it may be (and this is the point I’ve been trying to make to you), Daisy got the job done. All we need to do is find someone who can shut down the opposition’s top players as well as he did & we’ll be the team we were + the Girardi/Shatty swap. IE, much, muuuuch better.

    • Miller had 11 points in his last 32 games played this season, including playoffs. Plus he’s never played with a broken jaw, or rushed back from broken ribs, or worn a letter for his team….but by all means let’s forget the best homegrown Rangers’ center since Doug Weight….

      • Dubinsky…..not even close…..
        Again I ask the question I do to all the stepan fans….
        Dont you watch him play? When was the last time he went into the corner after a puck? When was the last time he threw a check?
        3 Game winners in 100 playoff games! Would you call that clutch?
        Did you watch Kopitar DESTROY him in the finals couple years ago?
        Do you watch him lose or get rid of the puck as soon as he sees a man coming?
        What about his play is there to like??????????????????

        • Did you see Stepan score a game 7 OT series winning goal against the Caps? Because I sure did.

          We’re talking about Miller here, also. How can you claim a guy who has 1 goal in 40 NYR playoff games a worthy replacement to a consistent two-way center like Stepan? You mock Step yet his teams have beaten Crosby & Ovechkin in the playoffs as often as his team has lost to them.

          And that’s the thing about consistency–it’s often unnoticed until it’s gone. You claim Miller is the better player, yet except for this regular season he’s never outperformed Step production-wise. And Miller was horrible in the playoffs this year (again), while Step–despite a poor playoff by his own admission–was still a more effective player for NYR. The jury is out–wayyyyyy out–on whether Miller is anything more than a 3rd liner who crushes other 3rd liners in terms of production. As a top 6 forward? He’s not proven anything consistently yet.

          • Again I watch the games and see miller as a much better player than stepan…..he drives possession rather than throw the puck away at the first sign of contact. I notice you did not refute any of my complaints about stepans play…….and you cant…..he is who he is and his play ‘stinks’….you cannot be a good hockey player if you are scared to death of contact!
            You will see as this year plays out. I am betting against his new team every game…..because of his play!

          • Have you watched JT Miller score 1 goal in 40 playoff games for NYR? I have.

            You must’ve missed most of those games. I didn’t.

          • You may have watched them, but you better buy the NHL package if you want to continur to watch Stepan, because he ain’t here no more. Embrace your current players or not, but Stepan is GONE!

          • “Again I watch the games and see miller as a much better player than stepan…..he drives possession rather than throw the puck away at the first sign of contact.”

            This is “fake news”. JT Miller last year was a relCF% of -3.5%, meaning the Rangers had the puck LESS with JT Miller on the ice and had it more when he was on the bench. Stepan was a relCF% of 3.7%, which means the Rangers had the puck just under 4% more often when Stepan was on the ice, than when he was off.

            As I should a few days ago, the JT Miller/Hayes/Grabner line got trashed in shot attempts against. Miller was something like -200 shot attempts on the ice for.

            And using paulronty’s favorite Expected +/- stat, JT Miller was a -10.3 player. Meaning, lots of bad things and high quality attempts against happened when he was on the ice.

            “I notice you did not refute any of my complaints about stepans play…….and you cant…..he is who he is and his play ‘stinks’….you cannot be a good hockey player if you are scared to death of contact!”

            I do believe Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky would like to have a word with you. Patrick Kane would too. Or were they go getters in the “physical” play arena?

  • The NYR in my view should enable Miller to continue developing as a winger. There hasn’t been a current roster player who has been yanked between AHL/NHL and all across the forward lines and positions more than Miller throughout his career. This is his responsibility as a player but, since he has his own struggles, like any other player (e.g., Kreider), just offer him the max lineup stability possible so he can continue to develop. Maybe he’d become a consistent 30-goal scorer for this team. The other alternative is to pursue a trade of Miller for a bona-fide, similar-aged center, with a similar contract profile…. such as Boon Jenner. But I would not place Miller at center, period. We are already placing too early/large a burden on Mika; let’s not do the same to another one of our centers (and who is to say Hayes will handle 2nd line center duties)?

  • Agree on Miller…not the center position guy. Rangers prematurely thinking that Anderson makes the team and plays on fourth line. Even if he does, not sure this is a championship team with the centers that we have.

  • Look, we are going to have a bigger problem at center that JT Miller, and it is going to be Mika Z. His half brother is now his agent. Thinks he is going to get 3 years at over $5M per. I am thinking Rangers are not going that high yet. Looking at what some others are getting and he really isn’t quite there yet. If he takes NYR to an arbitration hearing, that does usually make for a long time NYR employee. He has this week to make the deal.

    If you think JT looks bad as a #3C, he won’t look any better with a disgruntled #1C ahead of him.

    Still happy Stepan is long gone.

    • Daisy or not, no one has addressed what the hell we are going to do when the other team’s top players are tossed out there.

      Like it or not, Daisy was good at one thing – limiting scoring against.

      That is not an opinion….

      We have no one to replace that, regardless of how over or under paid you think he was or wasn’t.

      Until we fix that, and I really don’t care how they do it at this point, there will be issues versus the other team’s top players this year….. even if Girardi is gone.

      Mind you, for the [10,000th time], I’m happy he’s gone, for more than one reason. Most importantly, he was another crappy year away from being considered dramatically overpaid by every single NHL GM.

      Had that happened (instead of getting the 7th & former 1st rd prospect), we’d have been lucky to even get a late first round pick & a throw-in for him from some playoff team looking for a 2C…. and even then (assuming he would have waived his NMC), we’d probably have to hold back a lot of salary to even get that diminished return.

      …. But to pretend that he was another Staal or Girardi in terms of contract/impact…… that just isn’t true.

      • If they’re smart they’ll give him Brassard’s deal for as long as he’s willing to sign for…. we need to remember, he’s only 24…

        He’s the type of player you gamble on, because if they improve even just a bit (which is very likely, given his age), then the deal becomes a steal…

  • JT Miller will be fine at center this year.The kid loves to carry the puck with speed and is a excellent passer. He goes hard to the net and isn’t afraid of contact. Over the course of the season his Dzone coverage will improve. The Rangers will be find. Can’t wait to see DeAngelo and Sean Day.

    • Agreed Blue..and I believe JT knows enough about the game not to leave the defensive zone too early. The speedy wingers on the otherhand..different story.

    • Miller at center is not the best option, it’s the last (urgent) option.

      His best asset is speed on the outside entering the offensive zone. You will negate that by putting him at center, making him more responsible in the D zone. You want to maximize his offense, not restrict it.

      That being said, Desharnais at 3C is not an option. He’s a 4th liner and that’s it. And forcing the 3C down Andersson’s throat is not an option either as he starts in Hartford for sure.

      Hawks are all righty on D, practically. They have no cap space. Send Holden “plus” to them for Anisimov and center problem solved.

      • Love the idea of bringing Anisimov back, but do we even know if this is something Chicago is remotely thinking of doing? Can’t imagine they are looking to trade a productive center signed at a reasonable rate for a bottom pair defenseman (“plus” would mean a pick or two I imagine. Does that move the needle?).

        • Supposedly Hawks in on Duchene, so between LTIRing Hossa and trading Anisimov then they can fit in Duchene’s $6M cap hit.

          Unless Anisimov goes to the Avs for Duchene.

  • Unless the Rangers find a deal they can’t pass up for a center I expect JT to be tried as the 3C. They will have an easier time finding a winger.

  • Well written article

    my comment is, per usual
    should bend buckle and break to the players
    instead of vice versa
    with excessive machinations

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