J.T. Miller has leveled up with the Vancouver Canucks

J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

J.T. Miller is having a heck of a season with the Vancouver Canucks.

J.T. Miller has enjoyed a breakout season in his new home on the Vancouver Canucks. Acquired in an offseason trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canucks were banking on Miller’s upside potential. 2019-20 was the season Miller hit the top line forward potential that got him drafted 15th overall in the 2011 draft by the New York Rangers.

It is easy to forget the seven-year NHL veteran with 61 career playoff games entering the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs just turned 27 year old this past March. Through gaining a ton of NHL experience at such a young age, Miller has rounded into top form right at the start of his prime years.

With the stable of first round talent Vancouver has assembled with forwards Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Jake Virtanen, and defenseman Quinn Hughes, it was Miller that led the Canucks in scoring during the 2019-2020 regular season.

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He had 27 goals and 45 assists for 72 points in 69 games, with 25 of those points coming on the power play. 165 shots on goal with a 59% winning faceoff percentage all while averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game. All career highs in a complete breakout season for Miller.

In the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, Miller picked up where he left off in the regular season. He has five goals and five assists for 10 points in 11 games, with six of those points coming on the power play. 26 shots on goal with a 54% winning faceoff percentage all while averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game.

The progression to a top line, point per game producer wasn’t an easy road for Miller. The East Palestine, Ohio native played most of his youth hockey in Pittsburgh before joining USA hockey’s National Team Development program for two years. Miller was voted by the coaching staff of the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 championship as the top US player in the tournament, helping USA finish in first place with four goals and nine assists in six games.

From there, he was selected by the New York Rangers with the 15 overall selection of the 2011 Draft. After playing in the OHL and then AHL, he got his first call up on February 5th, 2013. He bounced up and down from the Hartford Wolfpack and New York Rangers for two seasons before staying in the NHL from November of 2014 on.

Miller has always been a versatile, durable, all situational player throughout his pro NHL career. He has played on the power play and penalty kill along with even strength and at all three forward positions.

Miller’s Rangers tenure was mostly mid to bottom-six forward duty, bouncing up and down the lineup through all three forward positions constantly, never averaging much more than 16 minutes a game over the course of any season. His best season as a Rangers came in the 2016-2017 campaign, where he had 22 goals and 44 assists for 56 points in 82 games.

In the playoffs, he scored 1 goal and 15 assists for 16 points in 40 career playoff games as a Ranger. Miller improved every year, but whether it was coaching, line mate chemistry, or overall maturity, he couldn’t hit his top potential in New York consistently.

In the 2017-2018 season, Miller was in the midst of a 40 point campaign in 63 games, projecting to be his best season as a Ranger. In the last season of his contract and with the team failing to reach expectations, Miller was traded in a package with Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The rebuild was starting for the Rangers and Miller was caught in the crosshairs.

Miller finished the 2017-18 season with 10 goals and 18 points in 19 games for the Lightning, making 2017-2018 the best season of his career overall. In the playoffs, he scored two goals and 10 points in 17 games for Tampa Bay. That offseason, Miller signed a five-year, $26.3 million deal.

The 2018-19 season saw Miller take a step back from his trending progress of productivity, scoring 13 goals and 34 assists for 47 points in 75 games. Although he scored a career high of 20 power play points, Miller was again bouncing up and down all the forward lines and all forward positions throughout the season.

Again, for whatever the reasoning was, he could not produce on offense consistently enough on a Lightning team that won the President’s trophy that season. The Lightning would get swept in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, where Miller scored two assists in the four games.

Looking for cap relief and a shake up of their own after a dismal playoff showing and heavy expectations, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded Miller to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2019 third round pick, a first round pick in 2020, and a AHL goaltender last offseason.

In what looked like a trade leaning in Tampa’s favor has turned into a slam dunk win for Vancouver considering what the Canucks gave up and what they received in return.

At 27 years old, Miller’s extensive playoff experience and years in the NHL at that young age has been a perfect complimentary piece to a young but dynamic Vancouver Canucks nucleus. Miller has not only raised his game to a top flight level, but has helped the other dynamic players around him grow at a faster rate. Signed for three more seasons at $5.25 million, Miller is a star at a bargain price for the Canucks to continue to build around for their future.

There is only more promise for Miller to grow into elite stature as a leader with the firepower around him to get to the next level. Miller not only had a career year in less than a full regular season, he has already equaled his goal total (five) in 2020 than he had in his previous 6 playoff seasons combined. And his 10 points is already more than Miller has ever had in a single playoff season.

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As the Canucks continue to build around Miller and the dynamic young players mature to get even better, the future is bright for all parties involved. After a sometimes turbulent and unsettled early NHL career, Miller has found his home with the Vancouver Canucks.