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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

J.T. Miller’s transition play is something the Canucks lacked last season

One of the premier acquisitions this summer by Jim Benning and the rest of the Canucks’ front office, J.T. Miller, was brought in to simply elevate the talent level.will go a long way towards ameliorating that issue next season; but what Miller can really bring to the 2019-20 Canucks is an ability to create offence in a way that not many players on last year’s roster were able to.

It was a common theme last year — a team stuck in their own end or unable to successfully enter the offensive zone with ease, barring a couple players. With Miller hopefully added to the top-six forward group next year, there is a sudden jolt of zone entry success that was absent last season.

Miller doesn’t have the foot speed of most top-line wingers around the league, but instead can think his way through a play and let some of his other assets help him produce.

During one game last season, he displayed exactly this.

While some of the Blue Jackets defenders backed off, Miller was able to receive the pass from Sergachev mid-stride and enter the zone while quickly passing the puck to the open Stamkos to his left.

Miller was the focal point of this play that eventually ended up being a goal. With Stamkos and Killorn on either side of the blue line, waiting for the zone entry, it was up to Miller to receive the pass and bring it into the scoring area — transitioning the play from defence to offence.

On last year’s Lightning team, there was plenty of offensively-minded players, that’s what lead them to having a 120+ point season in the standings. But Miller carried the puck into the zone more than anyone on that roster brimming with talent.

viz and data via Corey Sznajder

While, Miller had the highest entries per hour, he didn’t always carry it into the zone with possession. Either making a pass or successfully dumping it in, Miller was able to do what was important, which is to transition the puck to the area of the ice where goals happen.

If you take a look back further into his time with the Rangers and his first year with the Lightning included, Miller was able to successfully carry the puck in at a very high rate. Tracking his last three seasons, he was able to carry the puck in 75 per cent of his zone entries, meaning a higher chance of creating something and not losing possession.

And to top it all off, Miller is in the 78 percentile of all players in the league when it came to his zone entries with possession rate. I wouldn’t quite call him a possession machine, but he does it well enough to be a massive improvement on this team.

viz and data via Corey Sznajder

Compared to last year’s Canucks, Miller will be a welcome addition when it comes to entering the zone. He still had the highest number of entries per hour, while only three Canucks this past season had a higher carry-in percentage.

Last year, there were only a couple options on this team. Players would either never even attempt an entry or carry the puck in, or would enter the zone by a passing play or dump-and-chase.

It might be comparing apples and oranges — the Presidents’ Trophy winners to a team that hasn’t yet found their footing and have wallowed in the bottom-10 of the standings for years now. But it all comes down to the tactics when entering the zone.

viz and data via Corey Sznajder

The Lightning were a very heavy and fast-paced team last season, they had the skilled players that could exit the zone cleanly and then help their team retain possession all the way into the offensive area. The Canucks, on the other hand, were dead last by an extremely wide margin when it came to entering the offensive zone with possession. They were also one of the worst teams when it came to exiting their own zone.

Whether it was an issue of systems or talent, it’c clear the Canucks were in dire need to turn over some of their roster. Being in the same realm of last year’s Red Wings, Senators and Coyotes isn’t the best look when you want to take a step forward.

Miller can’t bring up the numbers all by himself, but since he will most likely be playing with one of the two centres that were able to carry-in the puck at an above-average rate last season, his numbers will continue to stay where they are.

He certainly won’t drag the line down and since he’s used to playing on such a fast-paced team the last couple of years, he might make some zone-entry magic with Pettersson or Horvat as his centre.

The first round pick the Canucks gave up to acquire Miller is going to be a tough pill for many fans to swallow – especially if they miss the playoffs in the next two years – but there is no question that Miller has made this team better. Even ignoring the fact that he has consistently scored 15-20 goals if he plays a full season, his basic means of getting to the net and entering the offensive zone better than most forwards in the league will be something improves the Canucks dramatically.

  • 1st and a 3rd is an awful lot for a potential lottery team to give up for a guy who scored 13 goals last year. I really hope he lives up to the hype. Benning put his job on the line with this move and the Myers signing.

    • Except its a lottery protected pick last year. And even if the trade is for a 2nd and a 3rd, I would rather have Hoglander as a 2nd in last year’s draft – then what we could have gotten in mid 20’s next year.

      • Another new account springs up into an immedite know-it-all mouthpiece… previous account name/s guy?

        A 1st and 3rd are the signs of a desperate, clueless GM who lovesto overpay on an outdated ‘hockey guy hunch’.

        No surpise though, seeing as JEFF GORTON was the key draft guru in Bawstan and not the Laurel and Hardy tandem of Chiarelli and Benning.

        • You need to sit down, take a deep breath and have a cup of tea to calm your nerves. You’re really paranoid that every new account is some secret enemy of yours.

          Gorton was certainly a key piece of the Bruins being one of the best teams of the decade (makes me want to puke a little, but it’s true), but Benning’s draft record here has been solid so far, and if the college crop, Woo and Nils land, I think we can credit him and Brackett. The real test is going to be whether he can improve in contract management in 2 years when the cap hit will matter. So far he’s thrown out cash to make Vancouver attractive, now we have to hope the young core makes it attractive instead.

        • ‘Tellmore’ You need to MAN UP and reveal your previous usernames… otherwise you wouldnt know about ‘secret enemies’orthe like.

          Lots of new accounts showing up like you, J-Canuck and JDMay all flapping your yaps with the over-confidence of CA lifers… so, who do we know you as? MAN UP…

          • Yeah man, pretty paranoid. This gatekeeping thing, looks pretty bad on you too. Do you not want more fans here to discuss the team?

            But then again, you aren’t discussing the team, you’re just insulting people and accusing them of being some secret enemy of yours.

            Please respond to my discussion points regarding Benning’s draft record, why we aren’t in cap trouble due to having 24 contracts on Cap Friendly, why Boeser isn’t worth over 7 million when Pastrnak got 6.6, or anything else tangible and supported by facts that I’ve said.

            Continuing to accuse me of being someone else and telling me I don’t belong here is pretty shabby.

    • It’s a high price, but it’s not really for “a guy who scored 13 goals last year”. It’s for the guy who scored 22, 22, and 23 goals the three years prior. Even last year, he was on a 50+ point pace playing limited minutes on the Lightning’s third line. In the Canucks’ top 6, you’d expect a solid ~20 goal, ~60 point performance out of the guy, and that’s way better value than you usually get with a mid-first round pick.

      Now, if the Canucks fail to make the playoffs this year and next, and the Lightning get to pick top 3 (or even top 5) then yes, it’s a complete disaster of a trade. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    • I can’t imagine any other cellar dwelling teams offering a 1st and 3rd for Miller. Imagine a team with cap issues shedding a contract and walking away with 1st rounder from a cellar dweller.

  • Ameliorating. Nice word!
    I have no problem giving up a first that would take years to develop for four prime years of a EP/BB/J.T. line. The pick is protected next year BTW.

    Miller as well as Quinn and Meyers will bring much improvement in entering the offensive zone. Millers passing skills will improve Brock and EP’s goal totals as well as the PP. no more stagnant PPs just waiting and waiting and NO more Drop passes!!!

    A guy like Miller was down the ladder on a stacked Offensive team like the Lighting. He will give the Canucks a true #1 line and a PP n top 1/3 of the league. If the PK can still produce like last year…
    That’s a recipe for th eplayoffs

    • I see the trade as a future, unproven, undeveloped 1st for a 1st that already has a pretty damned good track record, with the 3rd thrown in for getting the privilege for that 3 or 4 years experience. there are many 1st’s that don’t measure up to the hype or the level of pick, so I have no problem with the trade.

      • Yes.
        A top 10 pick has a very high percentage of making the NHL, but after that the percentages drop quite a bit. The Canucks were supposed to be the worst team in the league last year and picked 10th. Upgrades mean they should be in the mix up until the end. If they get squeezed out because of Western depth, the pick stays. I believe the Canucks will make the playoffs

  • When you are one of the worst teams in zone exits and entries you will surrender a lot of zone time each game. The Canucks had a CF% of 47.9 at 5v5 last year so they were obviously were on the wrong side of shot attempts most games. Calgary was 53.9%.

    Myers and especially Benn are big upgrades on zone exits, I expect Hughes will be strong, Miller is a solid add on zone entries. Could it be the Canucks are using some of these analytics to make personnel decisions?

    CF% is far from a perfect predicter of winning but Calgary attempted almost 600 more shots than their opponents last year, outscored them by 66 goals and was 18 wins to the positive side. I think an article on the cumulative effects on possession stats from the personnel changes the Canucks have made would be very interesting.

  • Two keys for me on this trade:

    1) The team is better off not wasting any prime years of EP40 – the fact that Petey is on his ELC for two more years makes adding a player like Miller worth it (in addition to other adds). Why not extend EP40’s window to win?

    2) An often forgotten element of the trade is that Miller can play center so, all of a sudden the team is much more prepared for when the inevitable injuries strike:

    Petey
    Bo
    Miller
    Sutter
    Gaudette
    Beagle

    • The second point is key. The increased centre depth also allows us to deploy Miller, Sutter and Gaudette as “faceoff” wingers that can take a draw, or even cover for EP40 until he gets better at the dot.

  • One thing to consider is that JTM will be beneficial to both Petey and Boesser . Petey especially will benefit from having a left wing who a complete offensive forward ego can pass , shoot and drive possession .

    • Who can pass , not ego can pass . If Petey had to play another year without a left winger it would have been counter productive to our budding superstar .

  • Benning has been building a team one that can and will compete each and every night. Green has been able to analyze the team and put a wish list together to fill in gaps where the team needed help. Depth was something that lacked which has now been addressed not completely but better than it has been. The defense needed to change not just one or two players it needed a drastic upgrade. Hutton good guy but was not a top defender just because he logged a lot of minutes does not say he had talent just spoke to the depth the team had. The fact Hutton has not signed or been given an offer shows has much value other teams had given him so anyone who thought he had trade value you can now see no other team wanted him. Benning still adding depth to help out the younger players like Petey and Brock whether is is muscle to protect them or more leadership on the ice that can help them get through tough stretches. I like what Benning has done now to see how it works out in real action.