Tale of two seasons for Canucks' Miller on power play vs even strength

Mar 22 2023, 6:12 pm

Twelve games to go. That’s how much time is left until J.T. Miller’s bargain cap hit of $5.25 million per season expires.

The good news? If he plays like he did on Tuesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, he’ll be worth his $8 million cap hit for the Canucks.

“Millsy was a bull tonight,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet told reporters post-game. “I thought he was terrific, again. He got the crowd into it.”

After a sleepy first period from the Canucks, Miller got involved in the second period with a couple of hits, a shorthanded penalty-shot goal, and a 4-on-3 power-play marker.

That continues a trend where Miller’s special teams’ brilliance has masked his lack offence at even strength for the Canucks.

Lack of 5-on-5 offence

Now in his fourth season with the Canucks, Miller has continued to score at a point-per-game rate.

He has 69 points in 69 games so far this season.

On the surface, that’s pretty nice.

However, Miller’s current production at even strength has dipped pretty drastically compared to previous seasons.

He’s registered 23 total points, or 1.51 points per 60 at even strength this season.

Among 487 NHL forwards who’ve played at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5, that total ranks 275th.

It’s the first time since 2017-18 that his 5-on-5 production has dipped below a top-six rate (a low-end second liner usually produces at least 1.6 points per 60).

And, that mark is the lowest even-strength scoring rate he’s posted since his third season back in 2014-15, when he first became a full-time NHLer.

Part of it is due to a low shooting percentage, which is often an indicator of bad puck luck. Miller’s 8.8% shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is his lowest total since 2017-18.

However, he is creating fewer scoring chances than he did in both 2019-20 and 2021-22, seasons where he did produce at a top-line rate.

Miller’s lack of an impact at even strength has also been felt defensively. He’s been on the ice for 33 goals scored and 47 goals against for the Canucks at even-strength, for a -14 goal differential.

That’s the worst mark of his career, and only the second time that he’s had a negative even-strength goal differential since 2014-15. His expected goal differential of 45.4% at even-strength suggests that he hasn’t just been unlucky either.

Under Tocchet, Miller’s been marginally better, although the Canucks are still being outscored with him on the ice at 5-on-5 (11 goals for, 14 goals against).

For a player about to be making $8 million per season, the Canucks need more out of Miller at even strength.

Miller can’t stop scoring shorthanded

At even strength, Miller has scored nine goals this season, tied for 170th overall in the NHL.

However, his five shorthanded goals lead the entire league.

While he was out there killing a penalty against the Golden Knights on Tuesday, Miller broke up a pass and broke in shorthanded. He was hooked on the play, which set him up to score a beautiful penalty shot goal.

Coming into the season, Miller only had five shorthanded goals in his entire career.

Earlier this month, the Canucks defeated the Anaheim Ducks, with Miller adding another shorthanded tally to his stat sheet. He was asked postgame by reporters about whether there was a different mentality shorthanded in terms of thinking offence.

“We’re not thinking it. The plays are just coming to us. They’re making mistakes we’re capitalizing on them.

“When there’s a chance to get at 2-on-1, we’re certainly going to try but I’m not thinking about [offence].”

Miller’s power-play production still elite

Another reason why Miller’s dwindling even-strength production hasn’t been a big talking point is because he’s still an elite power-play producer.

He’s been a model of consistency on the man advantage ever since coming to Vancouver. And, over the last three seasons, his 6.89 points per 60 on the power play is the ninth-best total in the entire NHL.

This season, Miller is one of 30 NHLers to hit double digits in terms of power-play goals. He has 10 of them on the season.

And, his 13 primary assists with the man advantage are tied for 11th-best in the NHL.

Shorthanded scoring is hard to sustain, but if Miller can continue his power play brilliance while elevating his game at even strength, his $8 million cap hit could even look like a bargain early in that seven-year deal.

Trevor BeggsTrevor Beggs

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