Saturday, July 23, 2011

Would Rangers Sign J.T. Miller This Year?

When J.T. Miller was selected by the New York Rangers 15th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft he was headed to the prestigious college hockey program at the University of North Dakota.  Last week it was announced that Miller was backing out on that commitment and planning to play for Plymouth in the OHL next season.  Over at Hockey Buzz, Julie Robenhymer openly wonders if that plan will change again and see Miller sign with the Rangers and play in the AHL this season.  The chances of that happening are extremely slim, even though it is technically possible.

The basis for Robenhymer’s theory that Miller will sign is that the Rangers prefer for their top prospects to get into their system as early as possible.  That has some merit, but that has also largely depended on the player and they have been patient with most prospects in allowing them to stay in college or Juniors until they showed they were ready by dominating the competition. 

I agree with Robenhymer when she analyzes the difference between North Dakota and Plymouth in terms of Miller’s development.
Wouldn't he be better served playing against players who are older, bigger, stronger and faster in the NCAA for at least a year or two where he could play beaucoup minutes in key situations and can continue his progression into an all-around player? In my mind, the OHL isn't challenging enough for him at this point in his career, but he might not be able to earn the appropriate ice time in Hartford to maximize his development, where as I think the NCAA would have been the perfect option for him at the moment.
Robenhymer says that she believes Miller left UND because the Rangers did not want him there, though that is difficult for me to believe.  My personal belief is that the program at North Dakota is one the Rangers would have been more than happy to have Miller attend and the fact he was scheduled to go there was a bonus in selecting him. The decision to leave UND was more about Miller being anxious to get to the professional ranks as quickly as possible and believe that the schedule in the OHL is more conducive to that goal.

Robenhymer is right that because Miller was not in the CHL prior to being drafted he is eligible to sign and play in the AHL this year, but that does not mean the Rangers will exercise that right on him.  Miller is not ready for the AHL level and rushing him there could hurt his ultimate development, not to mention waste a year of his entry level contract.  Those years on the entry-level-contract are extremely valuable things to the team so they are not going to waste a year just to have him in the AHL.  The most likely outcome is that Miller goes to the OHL this year and if he dominates there he would be signed to an entry-level contract to play in Hartford next season.