JT Miller is always a hot topic among Vancouver Canucks fans. Whether that is on-ice play or trade rumours, Miller always provides debates among Canucks fans on social media.
After a career-high 99-point season in 2022, it looked like the Canucks would be trading him due to the fact he would want a big contract extension. As we all know, Miller wasn’t traded. He was extended to a seven-year deal worth eight million dollars per season. The extension kicks in next season with a no-trade clause taking into effect on July 1.
“J.T. Miller is an impact player in this League and we are thrilled to have him re-signed with the Canucks long term,” said Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin after the extension was announced. “His production last season speaks for itself and his competitive drive provides a standard that our players can look up to. He will continue to be a key piece of this team for years to come.”
Canucks fans, of course, were divided by Miller’s extension.
Things didn’t look great in the first part of the season. Yes, Miller was putting up the points but there were a lot of glaring issues with him.
First of all, his efforts while backchecking were very bad and there were a lot of turnovers from him.
Then there were the angry outbursts. Not looked worse than the game in Winnipeg in January where Miller yelled at Colin Delia to get off the ice for the extra attacker.
When the Canucks brought in Rick Tocchet to replace Bruce Boudreau as the new head coach, he was asked a ton of questions about Miller in his introductory press conference.
I was an emotional player, you know?” said Tocchet per Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre. But there’s different emotion. It’s okay to have emotion on the bench and tell your linemate ‘let’s go.’ But I think on the ice, you’ve got to be careful of your body language. That’s not an indictment on J.T. I’m just saying you can’t start backchecking because you’re mad at somebody.”
Tocchet also said this:
“Can we get better at game management? I think that’s something that will help, and it will help J.T. Sometimes you’ve got to live for another shift, everything can’t be high-risk. You’re up 3-2, if the play’s there to make. . . but you can’t throw pucks in the middle. And like I said, I’m not picking on J.T. I’m just talking in general.”
“Just trying to look in the mirror at how can I be better on the ice, how can I be a better leader, how can I control my emotions better?” said Miller per MacIntrye after Tocchet arrived. At the same time, it’s hard. It’s very, very hard when I play with a lot of emotion to keep it completely under control. But at the end of the day, it has revolved around playing the right way and winning hockey games. When we’re not getting those results. . . I’m mad at myself 99 percent of the time, no matter how it may come off.”
JT Miller under Rick Tocchet
Miller has clearly improved under Tocchet. At the time of this writing, he has reached the point-per-game level as he now has 69 points in 69 games. Nice.
Since Tocchet took over on January 23, Miller has 28 points in 23 games. He is second on the Canucks in points since Tocchet took over only behind Elias Pettersson. That is a 100 (99.8 rounded up) point pace.
Before Tocchet, Miller had 41 points in 46 games which were tied for fourth on the Canucks with Andrei Kuzmenko. That was a 73-point pace. That wasn’t bad at all.
The Canucks penalty kill is still the worst in the NHL at 69.6%. Not nice. However, it is fair to say that it has improved. It also looks like it won’t be the worst penalty kill in NHL history at this rate. (68.2% by the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings is the worst) Since Tocchet took over, the Canucks have the 26th-ranked penalty kill at 76%. Hey, it’s not last!
One of the reasons for the PK improving is Miller who has five shorthanded goals. That includes a rare shorthanded penalty shot goal against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night. The way he outwitted Jonathan Quick was pretty sick.
Miller’s efforts seem to have improved, especially defensively, which is an area that he never really was good at, to begin with. The turnovers aren’t as frequent and the backchecking? Well, he doesn’t look as lazy and we should hope to see more of this.
This big block against the New York Islanders was probably his best defensive effort of the season.
Miller along with Pettersson in particular have been looking at opportunities on the PK to create an odd-man rush the other way. It looks like Tocchet wants the Canucks to not only be more structured on the PK but attack the puck carrier as well.
Even on the PK, Pettersson is forcing a turnover by being aggressive because it seems like he knows Miller is racing down the ice for a goal-scoring opportunity.
Let’s take a deeper look at Miller’s improved defensive play using stats from the old reliable: NaturalStatTrick.
Before Tocchet took over, Miller’s shots against per 60 was 34.1 ( all these stats are at 5 on 5) and his goals against per 60 was at 3.07. Miller’s high danger chances against per 60 was at 13.19.
Since Tocchet arrived, Miller’s SA/60 has been cut down to 27.08, his GA/60 is down to 2.75 and his HDCA/60 is now at 12.36. Sure, that isn’t a huge improvement but it is better than no improvement.
Remember how I said Miller needs to turn his anger into offence? Well, he has kind of done that. Miller has also been putting his playmaking skills on display and this is something we need to see consistently.
The most intriguing part is that Miller’s improved play has been mostly when he is at centre. Now you probably know my feeling about him at centre but you have to give credit where credit is due.
Does this mean Tocchet is Miller’s Mr. Miyagi and he will live up to his contract? Definitely not. I still am not a fan of the Canucks giving him that contract for reasons already stated.
We can hope that Miller’s improved play can continue towards next season and two or three or maybe four years more. However, it is not guaranteed.
This also means Tocchet isn’t the saviour and there is no guarantee we can see this play continue at the start of next season. Remember the Boudreau bump? We all know what happened at the start of this season.
You might also be saying “Where was this Miller when the games mattered?” Yeah, it doesn’t matter who the coach is, effort must be given. It does feel very Canuck that Miller and the rest of the team turned their game up to 100 when they are way out of a playoff race and could be tanking for Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson or Matvei Michkov instead.
Next season, the team could look different and that will be Tocchet’s first real test as Canucks head coach. That will also be a test for Miller to build on his strong play and continue to prove his critics wrong.