Now that the dust has settled on the trade, it’s time to talk about J.T. Miller, who looks to be a very positive addition for the Canucks. Miller will likely get a look on the top line with Pettersson and Boeser at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay as well. As mentioned on this site previously, Miller is an above-average offensive driver who has shown great ability as a distributor throughout his career.
Miller has been fortunate to play with some excellent finishers at times in New York with Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad and in Tampa Bay with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Tyler Johnson. That fortune will likely continue if he is given the opportunity to start on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser along with time on the first powerplay unit.
Miller will be an upgrade on Josh Leivo and Nikolay Goldobin, who were the most frequent left-wingers on the first line with Pettersson and Boeser. The strongest part of Miller’s game is his passing ability, which makes the fit of him on that line with two terrific finishers, nearly a perfect one. We should see more efficient puck movement coupled with creativity, leading to more high danger scoring chances at 5 on 5 and on the powerplay.
Data collected by Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp) and Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) clearly shows over a 4-year span how good Miller has been at distributing the puck.
Firstly, we can see in the Shot Creation section that his PSC60 (primary shot contributions per 60) are well above average and that most of those are made up of SA60 (primary shot assists) rather than Shots60 (his own shots). Being in the 84th percentile for SA60 and only the 43rd percentile for Shots60 indicates he is clearly a pass-first player.
Through Stimson’s work, we know that when more pre-shot movement by a goalie occurs, more goals occur. This means that the truly great passers are able to put their teammates in positions to shoot quickly and on a goalie that is moving to try and square up. Creating pre-shot movement is done best by passing from behind the net or across the slot. Making the goalie move and putting teammates in positions where they can one-time the puck is something Miller does quite well as we see in the Pass Qualities section.
The ixA60 (likelihood of an assist counting for preshot movement per 60) variable is one of Miller’s best, which shows him in the 88th percentile. A very high number of Miller’s assists come off of goals scored on goalies who experienced plenty of pre-shot movement.
The DZSA60 (shot assists across the slot or behind the net per 60) variable shows Miller in the 79th percentile of players. He is able to recognize and take advantage of those crucial passing lanes that often lead to goals.
The last Pass Quality variable we will look at is 1TSA60 (one-timer shot assists per 60) and it happens to be another area Miller excels in. Being in the 95th percentile means he very often puts his teammates in positions to one-time the puck and for them to take full advantage of any pre-shot movement by a goalie. This is a very important variable for powerplay passing as one-timers are featured more frequently.
Pairing the excellent Shot Creation and Pass Quality metrics with the extraordinary finishing abilities of Pettersson and Boeser will, in theory, make for a great combination.
To provide further context to his passing tendencies, we can see Miller relative to his teammates during last year’s Presidents’ Trophy campaign on the chart below. Miller (circled in red) proved to be a great passer putting up the 2nd best A1/60 (Primary Assists per 60) on the team. Only Kucherov finished with a better A1/60 on last year’s talented Lightning team.
Miller’s shot creation will be an upgrade on Josh Leivo and Sven Baertschi’s on the powerplay as well. In his limited powerplay time last year, Baertschi actually had an xG (expected goals) rate that one would like on the first powerplay unit but was unable to convert those into actual goals.
This second chart highlights Leivo’s powerplay time resulting in a good Corsi, but a worse powerplay xG (expected goals) and GF (goals for) rate comparatively.
Miller was able to put up these good rates by spending time on both units, which could be difficult for some players who rely on the comfort and familiarity with certain personnel on a PP unit. Although he spent more time on the first powerplay unit, he was swapped out at times to make room for Ondrej Palat, when Jon Cooper wanted to give the unit a different look. This shouldn’t be the case in Vancouver where he has a very good chance of staying with a unit made up of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes.
While the trade for Miller itself was debated, his passing metrics shouldn’t be. He has proven to be one of the league’s better passers during his career and those abilities will be on display if he’s given the opportunity to play with the two best finishers in Vancouver.