The Rangers hold J.T. Miller in high esteem.
But a team in the midst of a playoff push in the final games of a truncated season does not have time to live with the mistakes a 20-year-old will make.
“He needs to play,” head coach John Tortorella said about Miller prior to the Rangers’ game against the Leafs. The Rangers sent Miller down to AHL Connecticut on Tuesday. “I think he has a bright future but the future is not right now.”
Miller had two goals and four points in 26 games. But his minus-7 rating along with reconstructed lines following the trades for Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett made the rookie the odd man out.
“I like where the lineup is as far as the personnel,” Tortorella said. “He did some good things, but you could see as it was going on that more and more mistakes were coming into his game. It’s the wrong way to develop a player.”
Still, Tortorella left the door open for a return should the need arise.
“We’ll talk to [hockey operations with the Whale] as we go through. If we have injuries here or whatever it may be, we’ll check who the best guy is at that point in time with [head coach] Kenny [Gernander] and [the] staff,” Tortorella said.
More Mats please
Mats Zuccarello was brought back to provide offense.
While he has played well, the diminutive winger only has two assists in six games with the Rangers, which has Tortorella concerned.
“He’s got to score,” Tortorella said. “He’s had chances. He’s created chances [but] he hasn’t scored. I thought him, along with a number of other people, forgot how to play defense the last game in critical times.”
The left wing on Brad Richards’s line only had two shots on goal in the 4-3 loss to the Leafs Monday night at the Air Canada Centre. He skated 23 shifts totaling 21:46 of ice time in that game.
Zuccarello was signed after Metallurg Magnitogorsk was eliminated by Salavat Yulaev in the first round of the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs. He finished the regular season with 28 points (11 goals and 17 assists) in 44 games, and had four points (two goals and two assists) in seven playoff games.
“Zucc is a different player than last year. I think he’s in better shape. I think he’s quicker on the ice. I feel very comfortable putting him in situations,” Tortorella said. “But he’s got to score. He’s got to score in the shootout. It’s nice that we’ve seen it before but we need it now.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.