Miller exceeding early expectations for Canucks after controversial trade

Oct 17 2019, 2:16 pm

.

When J.T. Miller joined the Vancouver Canucks through a controversial trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in June, some big expectations came with him. Any time a player costs a first-round pick, the bar of success is immediately set in a high place.

The season might only be two weeks old, but so far the East Palestine, Ohio native hasn’t just met expectations; he’s exceeded them.

Obviously, declaring a winner in a trade involving draft picks and playoff spots is impossible to do properly five games in. But when it comes to immediate impact, Miller has become the spark plug that’s helped pull his linemates out of a slow start and wake up a long dormant Canucks power play.

Lucky number 9

The trio of Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson, and Miller was the Canucks’ best line in the season opener in Edmonton. But after two straight losses, Travis Green elected to move Miller to the first line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser for the home opener last week. The switch paid off immediately, with Miller putting up the first four-point night of his career.

Through the Canucks’ first five games, Miller leads the team with seven points, thanks largely to his hustle at both ends of the ice. The 26-year-old’s tenacity forces teams to pay added attention to him, leaving his teammates open for scoring chances. Those skills were on full display in the third against LA when Miller single handedly bought the team time for a line change before setting up Edler for a one-timer that Jonathan Quick’s had nightmares about ever since.

While Miller and the newly minted Lotto Line (6-40-9… get it?) have yet to put themselves all on the same score log, his move up has helped his linemates. Ten of Pettersson and Boeser’s combined 11 points have come in the three games since the line change, with Miller holding a point share on four of their scoring plays.

Power play breakthrough

The Canucks’ power play entered 2018-19 with a lot of hype but was never able to gain any traction, finishing the season with a 17.1% success rate, tying them for 22nd in the league. This year, the addition of Quinn Hughes has brought new life to the team’s second unit, but Miller’s work as a net front presence has been a major key to success for the first.

Take Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings, where Miller scored two power play goals. He deflected an Alex Edler shot while screening Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier: 

He didn’t register a point on Edler’s goal, but along with Horvat, provided a double screen that didn’t give Bernier a chance to see the puck:

Miller’s second goal saw he and Horvat change places. The mess of skates and a hard pass from Pettersson led Bernier to anticipate a Boeser shot, and Miller capitalized on the over-slide.

Miller’s work around the slot is a big part of why the Canucks’ power play has improved its success rate to 21.1% to start the season.

Whether or not this trade pays off long term for the Canucks, the work Miller’s put in early on has both improved the team in the here and now. Vancouver’s upcoming four-game road trip brings a big test for himself and his teammates, but if “The Maestro’s” first five were any indicator, the best is yet to come.