Player: JT Miller
Cap Hit Outlook: Restricted Free Agent in 2016-2017
Status: Top Six Forward
2015-2016 G-A-P: 22-21-43 in 82 GP
I think it’s safe to say that JT Miller is finally out of the doghouse. After years of seemingly endless strife and failure to earn a chance to maximize his true potential, this most recent 2015-2016 campaign has seen Miller earn himself a top-six forward spot as the team moves into it’s “new era.” The youngest of the five Rangers to net at least 20 goals this year (he’s only 23 y/o), it cannot be denied that JT Miller carried the team on his back for a time, scoring nine goals in 10 games in late January-early February en route to a career year. He plays a quintessentially North-American game, highlighted by fierce fore-checking, an adaptability to mix up his speed with his strength on the puck along with a gritty attitude of never say die determination; the latter nurtured in development by his repeated AHL demotions and lack of consistent opportunity to showcase his talents at the Mecca. Upon promotion to the top line in early January, JT’s willpower and resolve was on full display when he said “It’s another opportunity, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I don’t want to go out there and try to make fancy plays. I’ve got to go play hard.” Sound like a player who’s taking his newly acquired top flight NHL status for granted? I don’t think so, either.
In his first full season at the NHL level, JT played in all 82 regular season games (and ALL FIVE playoff games), led the team in shooting percentage at a 16.3% clip, and tied Brass and Step for the team lead in game winning goals with 5. He was also called upon by the novel, U-23 Team North America and will play alongside the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad and the rest of the NHL’s most exciting and promising young guns at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in September 2016. For an extremely youthful player coming off his first complete, successful NHL year, there couldn’t be a better off-season opportunity than to play with the best at the top level of international competition (what these players may not have in respective “American” or “Canadian” pride will almost certainly be compensated by sheer will to win as a team against the best veteran hockey players in the world). Thus, while JT is unquestionably one of the Rangers’ most promising players and is a requirement in the Rangers plan to successfully re-tool on the fly whilst remaining competitive for Hank’s sake, management is undoubtedly going to have to pony up and ensure they lock JT in before another team has the chance over the summer.
In the summer of 2015, JT Miller signed a one year, prove-it qualifying offer worth $874,000. According to Spotrac.com, “similar players” to JT’s contractual status are Brett Connolly (BOS), Cody Bass (NSH), and Justin Fontaine (MIN). Respectively, these three players scored 14 goals combined this season. I think it’s safe to say JT’s in line for a serious payday—the question is will the Rangers prioritize him among their other cap-crunch concerns? In my estimation, JT’s excellent play this year has earned him an increased valuation somewhere in the ballpark of a 3 year, $8-9 million deal. It would behoove Jeff Gorton and management to lock this kid up as soon as possible within that range. Contemplating JT Miller in his hometown black and gold or the red, black and white is not a road Blueshirts faithful would care to venture.