"I love him": Canucks coach Rick Tocchet sticks up for J.T. Miller

May 2 2023, 11:09 pm

J.T. Miller was a lightning rod of criticism for Vancouver Canucks fans, as well as local media, in 2022-23.

The Canucks’ star forward struggled in the first half of the season, following the signing of a seven-year, $56 million contract extension. While he was able to still produce points, his defensive play was so concerning that former head coach Bruce Boudreau had to move him from centre to the wing.

Egregious giveaways were commonplace for Miller, but that appeared to change after the hiring of Rick Tocchet.

Miller had 41 points in 46 games under Boudreau, but most of his damage was done on the power play. He scored 20 power-play points but had just 21 even-strength points. And his -16 plus-minus rating was second-worst on the team.

That changed under Tocchet, as Miller had 41 points in just 35 games after the midseason coaching change. He scored 22 even-strength points, 10 on the power play, and nine shorthanded. His plus-minus was second-best on the team, at +9.

Another critique of Miller was his attitude, given how outwardly he displayed his emotions. That was never more true than when Miller blew up at backup goalie Collin Delia during a game for not skating to the bench for an extra attacker.

Tocchet, for his part, has spoken a few times with local media about his distaste of “bad body language,” which some took as a shot at Miller.

But in a revealing interview with former Canucks defenceman Shane O’Brien and co-host Scottie Upshall on the Missin Curfew podcast, Tocchet spoke highly of Miller.

Tocchet acknowledged that Miller has made mistakes, but also said he’s alright with Miller wearing his “emotion on his sleeve.”

“I love him. He’s bought into what I’m doing,” Tocchet said. “I understand, he’ll tell you, he made mistakes, the perception of him.

“The first thing I did guys, when I walked in and introduced myself to the team, I showed a three-minute video to the players of bad body language and bad changes. Millsy was in a couple. I said ‘Guys, I can put up with a lot of stuff, I want you guys to have your fun but, if you’re coming to the bench slow and you’re snapping your head back if a guy makes a bad pass to you, we’re going to have a problem. That’s one non-negotiable.'”

Tocchet indicated that Miller wasn’t the sole culprit, but said “he did it like everybody else.” But the 30-year-old has improved in that regard, according to the Canucks’ bench boss.

“I gotta admit, the [3-4 months] that I was there, I didn’t see much of that from Millsy,” Tocchet added. “He turned his whole thing around. There was a stretch there when he was one of the best two-way players in the league. He had over a point a game and was shutting down the other team’s best player. That line was great. He’s been terrific. He just wants to win. He wears his emotion on his sleeve sometimes, and I’m okay with that.”

Miller finished the season with 82 points in 81 games, ranking second in scoring to Elias Pettersson. He leads all Canucks players in scoring since he arrived in Vancouver in 2019, with 299 points in 283 regular games.

Tocchet reiterated that he wants his players to make smart, simple plays on nights they “don’t have it,” rather than making mistakes. It appears Miller has been following those instructions.

“A good thing about Millsy, and players like that… you might not have it that night, for whatever reason — your legs suck, you just don’t have it. I like the guys that stay mentally strong and just do the right things. Sometimes we don’t have it, guys, they’re worse out there. They give the puck away, they’re just terrible,” said Tocchet.

“One game Millsy didn’t have it, and I was watching him. He just wasn’t making mistakes. He would dump it in, he had good angles, he’d come off early. That’s sometimes when I really see a character of players, where you can hang in there… That’s development of mental toughness.”

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