Why K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider set to take on bigger Rangers role together

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Peter Laviolette made a change to the New York Rangers blue-line pairings late this season, bumping down captain Jacob Trouba and moving Braden Schneider up to play alongside K’Andre Miller.

Miller and Schneider, who were a pair when Trouba was sidelined with a fractured ankle in March, played together the final two games of the regular season and in 11 of the Blueshirts’ 16 postseason games, largely passing the eye test as one of their sharpest D-pairs. Trusted to play together in the Rangers’ most important games of the season, could the pairing be something we see a lot more of next season?

Though many are down on Trouba’s defensive play, the decision to break up Miller and Trouba was far from a no-brainer. Outside of the occasional injury or lineup shake-up, the duo has been a staple of the Rangers D-corps since Miller’s rookie season in 2020-21.

In fact, between the regular season and playoffs, Miller and Trouba have logged 4,465.0 minutes together over the past four seasons, the most of any Blueshirts blue-line combo over that span.

They led the Rangers’ backend with 986.5 minutes played in the regular season, largely tasked with matching up against opponents’ top offensive lines. It’s no easy task and one that Miller and Trouba seemed to struggle with as the season progressed.

Trouba’s play, in particular, took a sharp drop at the turn of the new year. After posting a plus-nine in the first three months of the season, the 30-year-old defenseman played to a minus-13 rating from January on, ending the year minus-four.

Schneider, meanwhile, had arguably the strongest season of his young career, posting an NHL career-high 19 points and playing a pleasant physical role, finishing second on the team in blocked shots (133) and second among defensemen in hits (167). He appeared in all 82 regular-season games and logged 15:54 minutes per game, the most in his three NHL seasons.

Trouba and Miller were brought back together for a brief stint during the playoffs, and Schneider returned to the bottom pair with Erik Gustafsson from Game 6 of the second round until Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. However, Laviolette leaned on Miller and Schneider for the brunt of the Rangers early postseason success and returned to the duo when their backs were against the wall in the conference final.

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NHL: New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The final metrics don’t jump off the page. After a strong closeout to the regular season, Schneider and Miller both had their difficulties in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, particularly against the Florida Panthers, something it feels could be said for every single member of the Rangers’ D-corps, even Adam Fox.

In 444 minutes together between the regular season and postseason, the pairing generated a 46.1 expected goals for percentage. It’s certainly not exceptional, but there’s reason to buy into the combination over the course of a full season.

Both are already talented players in their own right, and there’s plenty of reason to believe they haven’t come close to peaking yet.

Schenider will be 23 next season, and Miller will be 25. You forget that they’re still so young because Miller is entering his fifth season already and Schneider his fourth.

Each has obvious offensive upside, although neither has seen substantial time on the power play, since Fox, Trouba, and Gustafsson were the defensemen most often used on the man-advantage.

Miller especially has shown flashes of elite offensive play, using his exceptional speed and reach to score some impressive highlight-reel goals. He tallied an NHL career-high 43 points in 2022-23 before regressing to 30 points this past season. Consistency in the offensive game is something he’s yet to prove, but the talent is undeniable.

Schneider might not be as offensively talented, but he’s still displayed the ability to move the puck and find the back of the net occasionally, scoring five goals this past season.

Miller and Schneider could be a pretty dynamic pair offensively, but it’s what they can do together defensively that makes them so tantalizing. They are mobile and play with a physical edge — a valuable combination for your go-to defensive pair.

If Trouba does indeed return next season, he’ll be 31 and coming off one of the worst defensive seasons of his career. He ranked in the 16th percentile for his defensive play, charting out worse than every Ranger defenseman besides Ryan Lindgren.

While an ankle injury may be partially to blame for his lackluster play in the postseason, his defensive play had already started to slip by the midway point of the season. There’s still value to his physical presence, but it might be time to shift him away from the top defensive matchup every game.

It’s got to be at least a conversation this offseason if the Rangers want to buy out Trouba or would consider eating salary and trade him. The Rangers captain has two years remaining on his contract at $8 million per, though it’s more likely he returns and plays fewer minutes.

The Rangers won’t lose much in the way of size with Miller (six-foot-five) and Schneider (six-foot-three), and replacing Trouba with Schneider makes the backend faster and more athletic. There’s a reason why Schneider is called “Baby Trouba.”

Miller’s already proven himself to be up for the task, playing against top lines consistently and ranking in the 77th percentile defensively. Meanwhile, Schneider showed an ability to take on a larger role this year and finished the regular season with a 6.9 goals above replacement that topped every Rangers defenseman except for Fox.

Schneider is a restricted free agent July 1, but should get a bridge deal done quickly to return. Lindgren’s also an RFA, but with a less certain future as injury concerns may give general manager Chris Drury some qualms about re-upping with the 26-year-old defenseman on a long-term contract, since Lindgren can be a UFA at the end of the 2024-25 season. Gustafsson is due to be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and, expected to see a bump in his $825,000 cap hit, will likely find a new home next season.

With all of that up in the air, it’s not exactly easy to plot what the Rangers pairs will look like next season. That said, it’d appear that the Miller-Schneider pair may be one we see for years to come on Broadway.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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