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.
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.