Rangers take a hard look at why they need a player like JT Miller
So maybe Chris Drury should have traded for JT Miller before the end of Sunday’s game against the Canucks when the Rangers CEO’s suite was just 20 yards behind Vancouver counterpart Jim Rutherford. .
It wasn’t pretty at the Garden, with the Blueshirts losing 5-2 in a generally uninspired and uninspired effort midway through the first period to midway through the third, while Miller – a Rangers eyeball on the March 21 deadline trades approach – set up both goals for his team in the first period.
The cost of doing business with Rutherford is going to be high, no doubt. The former and possibly prodigal Ranger leads the Canucks with 59 points (20-39), good for a tie for 10th in the league. Since arriving in Vancouver in 2019-20 via Tampa Bay, Miller is 15th in the NHL with 177 points (62-115) in 174 games.
He’s tall, strong in forechecking, he wins his one-on-ones, has become extremely responsible on his side and is an elite passer. Rangers realm for a player with those attributes to slide down the right side with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.
The problem, however, is that it may take a kingdom to get the 15th overall selection from the 2011 entry draft who still has one year remaining on his contract under which he carries an average annual value of 5, $2 million. In other words, he would become a two-playoff acquisition. In other words, there’s no rush for the Canucks to move him over the next three weeks while Rutherford offers him to suitors in need.
This one was far more the exception than the rule for the Blueshirts, who created a good number of Grade A chances early on but couldn’t shake keeper Thatcher Demko. When the first period ended 2-0 the other way when Tanner Pearson and Tyler Myers beat Alexandar Georgiev, who was making his first start in a month, the Rangers sagged all over the ice. It was so bad, in fact, that the club was booed off the ice late in the second period after the Canucks extended the lead to 4-0.
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“You get great looks in the first one and you leave two [goals], maybe it’s a little discouraging,” said Strome, who put the Blueshirts within 4-2 at 14:03 of the third before the Canucks sealed the game with an empty net. “As you can see things can change quickly and you definitely need to have a better response in the second half.”
The Strome-Panarin connection wavered for a long time. Neither has played close to their best hockey. Panarin seemed indecisive, unable to get through what he can historically thread through a needle. Strome’s play was halted as opponents took up time and space. Panarin have scored two goals in their last nine games while Strome has netted three in their last 19.
“We’ve found ways to win games, but obviously you want to produce as much as you can because that’s what you depend on for the team,” Strome said. “The work ethic is there, the competition is there and the will is there, but we just have to find the way to push sometimes and achieve that goal. Sometimes that’s the difference in the game of hockey.
“We had one late, so maybe we can build on that. You start pushing a little, you get a little frustrated. The games are a little tighter at this stage of the season, but we have to go in front of the net and score some fat goals. We need to simplify.
Panarin and Strome have mainly played with professional right wings who otherwise carry the last six portfolios such as Jesper Fast, Colin Blackwell and, currently, Dryden Hunt. Kaapo Kakko got a run at the start of the season. All of them work on the boards and do much of the grunt work. It’s their kind. That was the dynamic.
When things got ugly in this one, head coach Gerard Gallant toppled Hunt – whose failure to get the puck out led to Vancouver’s first goal – with third-line Ryan Reaves for the third period. It’s probably not a combination with stamina.
“Would you like to have a top guy who scores a lot of goals on this line?” Gallant asked rhetorically Friday when asked about the lineup. “There’s a salary cap like every other team, and you want certain things, but I like Huntsie there.
“When he plays good hockey, I like what he does there and the most important thing is that these two guys like him.”
But they would certainly like Miller. Who wouldn’t? It’s a matter of cost.