Cage Match: JT Miller vs. Rickard Rakell

by Rick Roos on February 17, 2016

Who is the better fantasy hockey player: JT Miller or Rickard Rakell?

This week’s battle revisits the first round of the 2011 entry draft, pitting J.T. Miller (the 15th selection) against Rickard Rakell (30th). Both have landed on the radars of a lot more poolies this season, which begs the question of who projects to be the better fantasy player in the short and long term. You’ve come to the right place for insight – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Miller, now 22, cut his teeth in the USHL for two seasons before being drafted. Following his selection by the Rangers, Miller headed to the OHL, where he posted 62 points in 61 games in his one and only campaign. Over the next three seasons, Miller essentially split time between the AHL (101 total games) and NHL (114 games), with much better production in the minors (81 points) than in the Big Apple (33 points). And despite only posting 23 points in 58 NHL games last season, Miller was showing signs of better things to come, including a stretch of eight points in 10 games spanning the end of March to the beginning of April. This season, he’s relishing his increased role and has emerged as a valued sniper for the Rangers.

Despite being from Sweden, Rakell, also 22, spent his teens in the OHL. There, like Miller, he had almost exactly point per output, although in his case it was in three seasons (151 points in 149 games). Rakell rode the AHL to NHL shuttle for 2013-14, doing well in the minors but not finding success in his time with Anaheim. Nevertheless, he managed to stick with Anaheim for virtually all of 2014-15, tallying a decent 31 points in 71 games. This season, he’s in the NHL to stay, and has seemingly found a home in the Anaheim top six.

According to Cap Friendly, and not surprisingly in view of their identical draft year and round, both players are on the final season of their entry-level contracts, each counting $0.894M against the cap. Their only salary-related difference is Rakell’s cap hit is the same as his AAV, while Miller’s AAV was a bit higher at $1.244M. That, in turn, might mean Miller will expect a bigger raise on his next deal.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

2015-16

14:37 (J.T.M) – 7th

16:04 (R.R) – 5th

1:23 (J.T.M) – 7th

2:19 (R.R) – 4th

0:00 (J.T.M)

0:06 (R.R) – 9th

2014-15

12:41 (J.T.M) – 10th

12:34 (R.R) – 13th

0:53 (J.T.M) – 9th

1:17 (R.R) – 9th

0:01 (J.T.M) – 12th

0:00 (R.R)

 

Both players had similar Ice Times last season, with Rakell holding a slight edge in per game scoring rate (0.43 points per game, versus 0.39 for Miller). This campaign, Rakell is similarly producing a bit better than Rakell (0.56 points per game, versus 0.53 for Miller), but unlike in 2014-15 he’s receiving 1:27 more Total Ice Time and 67% more PP Ice Time per game than Miller. The production vs. Ice Time discrepancy between them is difficult to reconcile, especially since both have tended to skate with among the better forwards on their teams (see here for Rakell’s even strength Frozen Pool data, and here for Miller’s). Maybe good luck (for Miller) and/or bad luck (for Rakell) might be at play? We’ll check below.

 

Digging a bit deeper, their production is indeed excellent for players their age who receive the amount of Ice Time they do. For 2015-16, Miller sits 27th in 5×5 Points per 60 minutes among the 315 forwards who’ve skated 400+ minutes at 5×5, with only three younger players (Dylan Larkin, Leon Draisaitl, and, one of last weeks’ combatants, Johnny Gaudreau) having a better ranking, while Rakell is not too far behind at 47th, with only one younger player (Andre Burakovsky) ranked between him and Miller. That’s some pretty fine young company, and the numbers bode well for both Miller and Rakell being more productive should they receive additional Ice Time in upcoming years, plus would seem to make them particularly attractive to own in (or to go out and acquire for) keeper leagues.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.44 (J.T.M)

0.23 (R.R)

2.43 (J.T.M)

1.70 (R.R)

0.57 (J.T.M)

0.37 (R.R)

1.62 (J.T.M)

2.47 (R.R)

0.03 (J.T.M)

0.10 (R.R)

2014-15

0.39 (J.T.M)

0.14 (R.R)

1.53 (J.T.M)

1.11 (R.R)

0.48 (J.T.M)

0.31 (R.R)

1.58 (J.T.M)

1.48 (R.R)

0.05 (J.T.M)

0.12 (R.R)

 

Both players have seen their PPP scoring rate drop despite gains in PP Ice Time. It might be a case of unsustainable bad luck, but the concern is if they can’t produce well with the man-advantage then they could receive less PP Ice Time going forward. That might be more of a viable threat for Rakell, not only because he’s currently seeing far more PP Ice Time than Miller, but also in view of Rakell’s PP Ice Time having nearly doubled and him being blessed with better PP linemates as compared to those with whom Miller skates with on the PP.

 

In fairness, poolies also could make a case that both players not being successful on the PP this season is actually a positive wrapped in what seems at first like a negative. After all, since they’re both producing well at 5×5, this means theoretically they have room for even better overall output if/when they start to fare better with the man-advantage.

 

Looking at other data, Miller has made his biggest gains in Hits, while Rakell’s have come in SOG. Miller’s combination of Hits and Goals makes him a member of fine multi-cat company, as one of only five forwards (Alex Ovechkin, Boone Jenner, Leo Komorov, and Wayne Simmonds are the others) who have 17+ goals on the season while averaging 2.35+ Hits per game.

 

Miller also is a notch above Rakell in PIM and Blocked Shots, with Miller’s output in each being slightly above average. Rakell is roughly average in Blocked Shots but below average in PIM. Rakell’s Hits per game, although not as impressive as Miller’s, are quite good. Plus, Rakell’s gains in SOG are very encouraging and bode well for future production. On the other hand, seeing the low total for Miller’s SOG and the miniscule gain in that area from last season, and weighing that in view of his recent goal scoring run, it’s very likely that his Shooting % is unsustainably high. We’ll dig into that below.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

18.7% (J.T.M)

9.3% (R.R)

1026 (J.T.M)

995 (R.R)

73.5% (J.T.M)

71.0% (R.R)

50.0% (J.T.M)

30.8% (R.R)

59.9% (J.T.M)

62.5% (R.R)

2014-15

10.9% (J.T.M)

8.6% (R.R)

1012 (J.T.M)

1007 (R.R)

54.8% (J.T.M)

68.8% (R.R)

60.0% (J.T.M)

72.7% (R.R)

52.1% (J.T.M)

50.8% (R.R)

 

Sure enough, Miller’s Shooting % is too high to be sustainable. The only other player to have scored 17+ goals while posting an 18.7% or higher Shooting %, is Artem Anisimov, who has the luxury of getting set up by none other than NHL points leader Patrick Kane. That having been said, as we learned last week, goal scorers tend to have a Shooting % of 13.5% or higher, so although Miller’s percentage will drop at least somewhat, it most likely won’t fall off a cliff entirely.

 

Here we also see confirmation of Rakell having exceptionally bad luck at 5×4, with an IPP of 30.8%. To underscore just how low that is, of the 158 forwards who’ve played 100+ minutes at 5×4 this season, only three have a 5×4 IPP lower than Rakell. And his 5×4 IPP would even put him third to the bottom among defensemen who’ve played 100+ minutes at 5×4 for the season!

 

Looking at the other forwards near the bottom in 5×4 IPP, we see the likes of Mike Fisher, Ryan Callahan, Jonathan Toews, Milan Lucic, David Desharnais, Anders Lee, Craig Smith, and Matt Moulson. In other words, being that low in 5×4 IPP likely isn’t just a case of pure bad luck – it suggests the player himself is not super talented with the man-advantage. But in fairness to Rakell, he’s at least three years younger than all of these players, so it’s not fair to lump him in with them, at least not yet.

 

Both players have high OZ% for 2015-16, which, also in fairness, isn’t entirely surprising given their age and experience, not to mention the fact that they have virtually no SH Ice Time. Even still, those are quite high – placing Rakell 19th among the 251 forwards who’ve played 40+ games for the season, and Miller just outside the top 10% at 32nd. As time goes on, those numbers are at risk of dropping, which in turn could neutralize production gains that would’ve otherwise been expected based on increasing Ice Time and maturity.

 

Both are eligible as center only on Yahoo, with Rakell currently owned in 5% of all Yahoo leagues compared to Miller’s 22%. Their C-only eligibility is problematic, as Rakell is averaging 2.43 FOW per game, while Miller has only 44 FOW for the entire season! If your league counts the FOW category, then it would be tough to justify owning either player until/unless they eventually get eligibility at a wing position, or if over 200 forwards are collectively owned among GMs in the league.

 

Who Wins?

 

Picking a winner is difficult, since there isn’t a lot of data to digest and both players have question marks, notably high OZ% (affecting both), Rakell’s terrible 5×4 IPP, and Miller’s high Shooting %. For what it’s worth, Miller has less competition nipping at his heels, what with only three Rangers forwards among the top 200 forward prospects, versus six for Anaheim to contend with Rakell).

 

When matches are as close as this one, the decision comes down to cost vs. value; and with only 5% ownership for Rakell vs. 22% for Miller, I think Rakell gets the narrow victory. In other words, since both players seem poised for similar production – at least in the near term – Rakell gets the win because it should cost you less to draft or trade for him as compared to Miller.

 

We also have to take into account that Miller plays for the Rangers – an East coast Original Six team with an ardent fan base and a lot of media coverage, while Rakell plays for the West coast Ducks, who are far less in the public eye. Thus, what I’ve previously referred to in this column as the “Habs Factor” comes into play, and would make Miller’s cost possibly even higher, and Rakell a bit lower due to the teams they play for.

 

Still, as I said above, given their age and points per 60 minutes production, both players make attractive targets in keeper and dynasty leagues, especially those without FOW. Long term, they could end up providing poolies with a nice combination of Hits and points ala Gabriel Landeskog, or, in a truly perfect world, like a Blake Wheeler or Joe Pavelski. But it’s at least equally possible that either or both of them end up following a Brayden Schenn, Justin Abdelkader, Troy Brouwer or Andrew Shaw type of trajectory, getting plenty of top six chances but not becoming more than a 40-50 point player who also gives a fantasy team 1.75+ Hits per game.

 

If your team is not looking to win over the next 2-3 years, it would be worth getting either (or both) in hopes that things pan out well. But if you’re looking to win very soon, they might pose a bit too much of a risk of not breaking through soon enough, if at all.