Yesterday we looked into why the organization decided to keep Jesper Fast over J.T. Miller, focusing on zone starts and puck possession in the first game of the year. Naturally the conversation shifted to why Taylor Pyatt and Brian Boyle were kept, since these are the two whipping boys among the forwards this year. So, let’s address that.
First and foremost, before we even get into #fancystats, hockey is a game played in all three zones. A well-built team has depth players that can play in the defensive zone and shutdown the opposition’s offense. That is why this club needs a guy like Boyle. He will be AV’s Manny Malholtra, getting the majority of his zone starts in the defensive zone. That was evident on Thursday, as Boyle didn’t start a single shift in the offensive zone.
As for Pyatt, many are quick to write him off as a failure because of last year’s struggles. There is some credence to this argument, since Pyatt was slow and unable to really make a difference in an aggressive John Tortorella system. However as Suit pointed out this morning, AV is more of an overload/passing coach, relying less on the blue-collar skating and more on creativity. Pyatt was effective in Vancouver (under AV) and in Phoenix (under Dave Tippett, who has a similar coaching style to AV).
It’s also worth saying that Miller is a guy that needs top-six minutes, powerplay time, and penalty kill time. He won’t get that in New York right now. But I digress.
Looking at both Pyatt’s and Boyle’s #fancystats from the first game on Thursday, both players drove puck possession exceptionally well considering their zone starts (Boyle – 0% OZ start, Pyatt – 9.1% OZ start). Pyatt had a whopping 75% CF%, and Boyle a 57.9% CF%. Miller on the other hand, who started 16.7% of his shifts in the OZ (worth noting he started 66.7% of his shifts in the DZ), had a 31.3% CF%. More on CF% here.
There are two things to notice from these stats: First is that Miller continued his struggles from last year in driving puck possession (-8.5 RCorsi). This isn’t to say that Miller is ineffective and a bust, just that the 20-year old needs some time to round out his game away from the puck. Positioning plays an important role in puck possession. The second is that, based on the one game, Pyatt is much more comfortable with AV’s systems, since his numbers last year were pretty bad.
The moral of this story?
Miller just isn’t NHL ready at the moment. It is a fact of life. He is better served with top minutes in the AHL, learning the game at a slower speed, and taking those adjustments –specifically positioning and play away from the puck– and applying them to the NHL level when he is ready. The organization does not view him as a bottom-six player, which is the role he would be playing for the Rangers. At the moment, it’s a round peg in a square hole.
As for Pyatt, if one game tells a story (note: it doesn’t, but it buys time) then Pyatt will be one of those players who could earn redemption this season. His lack of foot speed isn’t exploited as much in AV’s style of play. It is why he was successful in Vancouver and Phoenix. If we are preaching that we need to give the team around 20 games to find their feet and get adjusted to AV, shouldn’t the same rule apply to the players as well? Of course, my opinion is the minority opinion. I think I’m the only one of the five of us here at BSB who think that Pyatt should be given a little time.
One final point: Whether you like it or not, Boyle is an integral part of this club. Hockey is a three zone sport, and Boyle will be one of those defensive specialists for this team.
Miller is an important player for the future of this club. At the current moment he is not NHL ready, and the club will gain nothing by rushing him to the NHL to play fourth line minutes. Because of the investment the Rangers have made in the not-even-21-year-old yet, they will take their time with him, and rightfully so. After all, isn’t it more important to develop these guys than kill their future?