Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller have seen diminishing ice time over the past few games, getting to a point where neither received a shift after the mid-point of the second period in last night’s win. Coach John Tortorella has stated that he is worried about the kids, especially at this time of the year:
“Quite honestly, I am worried about the two kids. I am not upset with them, I just think that the stakes are high and I just have to watch how they go through the game.”
This shouldn’t surprise many, but it has been the cause of some very heated debates. Some have even gone as far as calling for Tortorella’s head because he refuses to play the kids. Some have said that he is hurting their development. Before we go blindly bashing the coach, there are a few points to consider.
First and foremost, neither kid was ready for the NHL level. The shortened season forced the Rangers’ hand, and Kreider was given a spot he did not earn in January, and Miller has stayed on the roster much longer than his play dictated. This isn’t a slight against the kids, they are both solidly in place as future cornerstones of this franchise, but this is about development and their current play at the NHL level.
Kreider was sent to Connecticut in February because he could not play without the puck. Torts is a coach that demands two-way hockey, and even in sheltered minutes. If you look at the chart here (select Rangers from the drop down), the bottom right bubble is Kreider under “sheltered.” J.T. Miller’s bubble is above the X-axis there, which leans towards two-way, but is still also a little sheltered.
Despite playing these minutes, both kids have been guilty of ghastly turnovers that have cost the team goals. In a playoff race where every game counts, the team can’t have two kids giving the puck up so much. Every point matters.
In a normal season, it’s unlikely that these kids would have seen regular NHL time. But with no preseason to assess where they (or the team) were, they were given roster spots and trial by fire treatment. With the Trade Deadline looming, both kids could see themselves (rightfully) sent back to the AHL to round out their games. This is the same treatment that Michael Del Zotto got, and it worked out pretty well for him.
Kreider and Miller are important pieces for this team. Their development is crucial for their future success. However, proper development does not necessarily mean NHL minutes. If the coaching staff feels that they are best served getting top minutes against weaker competition in the AHL, then both kids will be sent back, and the club will address their needs at the trade deadline.