Why JT Miller should be on the Boeser-Pettersson line

The Vancouver Canucks made a splash on day two of the NHL draft when they traded  a conditional first round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward JT Miller. That splash may have soaked Canucks fans at the time and probably still has more than a few people up in arms. The timeline that has been set out for fans is that the Canucks are making a playoff push now and JT Miller will be playing in a crucial role on this team, possibly on the left wing of the Elias Pettersson line.

JT Miller was used in a lot of different spots on a powerhouse Lightning team, but over his 94 games in Tampa Bay  Steven Stamkos was far and away his most consistent linemate. During his season and a quarter with the Lightning, they shared a total of 503:57 at five-on-five, nearly 200 minutes more than the 301:42 he shared with Anthony Cirelli.

Miller did increase many quick stats for his linemates.

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So yes, you could say he’s “analytics darling” or at least an “analytics darling-lite”.

Stamkos and Miller were utilized together quite often when he first arrived in Tampa Bay, but their shared ice-time began to drop in 2018-19 as he began to show chemistry with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli; not only offensively, but defensively as well.  They became Miller’s most consistent linemates over the back half of the season, although they only played together at 5 on 5 for 259:04 , which isn’t even close to what we might see from a top line in Boston or Colorado but it is at least comparable to how much we saw Leivo, Pettersson and Boeser together.

This Miller line definitely stacks up when you look at the share of goals per 60 minutes, although the small sample size should be noted as well as the fact that their line likely benefited from favourable matchups on a deep Lightning team.

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When this line was together it was tremendous, but we can’t forget how obscenely talented Tampa’s roster was last season, posting a 32-6-3 record over the timeframe that the Killorn-Cirelli-Miller line played together consistently. For comparison, the Canucks best 41 game stretch was 18-16-7.

In those 41 games, Miller averaged 13:52 of ice time and was featured on the second unit powerplay at the time and  was used in a third line role so they were likely used against weaker lines they could dominate. These three were able to control a high percentage of goal share as they scored 15 goals and were only on the ice for 3 goals against in 259 minutes together, for a control of goal percentage of 83.3.

So what makes the best situation for Miller to succeed and would that be to be the left winger alongside Pettersson and Boeser?

The thing that I wanted to research more was where the offense was coming from with Miller. The first thing I wanted to lock down was where Miller’s goals were coming from vs. where he was lacking. In the 94 games that Miller played with the Lightning he was unable to score a goal from the left side of the ice, as demonstrated by this spray chart representing his goals from 2018-19.

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All Spray Charts are the amazing work of Micah McCurdy

It wasn’t for the lack of trying either, Miller did take a ton of shots from the left side but was unable to convert even one shot into a goal in 2018-19 at 5-on-5.

Cirelli and Killorn were a bit more balanced when it came to goal scoring on each side of the ice. The line as a whole scored about 60-70% of their 5 on 5 goals from the right half of the ice but the Cirelli and Killorn contributed the entirety of the 30-40% of goals scored from the left side.

Why does it make sense for JT Miller to be paired up with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson?

Let’s start with where we finished the last paragraph, with some spray charts of where the goals were scored by Pettersson and Boeser. Pettersson and Boeser can pretty much score from anywhere, their spray charts are very close to 50/50. The difference in their offence when compared to other players is how far they are able to score from, most players have a very high percentage of goals between the circles and right in front of the net.

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Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are more like a Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combination, scoring at even strength from any attacking position or “High Danger Scoring Area”.

Spray Charts are courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath)

JT Miller was able to be the setup man on the Killorn and Cirelli line, and if he slots in beside two players who have much better shooting abilities In Pettersson and Boeser, there is good reason to believe that his numbers would improve.

The reason I think there would be success is because of where the goals are coming from with Pettersson and Boeser. Miller is good at keeping his feet moving and can make plays from anywhere on the ice. He’s great at finding the open man on the powerplay with cross ice passes, doing work behind the net and is also able to secure a zone entry on his own here without using a drop pass!

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Miller can be the playmaking winger that Pettersson and Boeser need to take their game to the next level and brings some grit and passing ability. Some have mentioned that he has a problem with staying motivated and that could have been part of the reason why the Rangers decided to move on from him, but it should be very easy to stay motivated if you start the season with immediate success on the Pettersson and Boeser line.

If he can blend in nicely with Stamkos and Kucherov while also blending nicely with Killorn and Cirelli, you would think he could do the same with Pettersson and Boeser, right?

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So JT Miller sees the ice well, can contribute with different skill level linemates and increased almost every single linemate’s Corsi %.

Almost all of them, that is

… but the two that stuck out who he didn’t improve was Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point, two players who are also very productive goal scorers in the NHL. Tyler Johnson scored 84% of his even strength goal in between the circles so that doesn’t worry me at all as he is a tap in specialist and doesn’t have great range, but the fact that Brayden Point and Elias Pettersson have very similar scoring charts could be cause for concern. Then again, I would also assume that the ability to stretch the high danger scoring area that Pettersson possesses should open even more passing lanes for one timers to himself and Boeser at 5 on 5.

The reason I am excited for JT Miller to be the left winger on the Pettersson and Boeser line is because Miller is a definite top-nine scoring player with a lot of numbers to back his ability to contribute on a line that saw a lot of Nikolay Goldobin and Josh Leivo last season. Both Goldobin and Leivo can compete at camp to have the chance to contribute in a top 9 role but JT Miller is a lock as a top 9 guy and has the chance to compete to be the team’s top scoring left winger. That’s a very key position on a winning team, and if JT Miller can win the first line scoring left wing spot out of camp and immediately find success it will turn our attention to Captain Bo and how to round out the second line with wingers that contribute to a top-six.

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JT Miller should be the left winger on the EP40-BB6 line because he is the most qualified man for the job. He’s the best skilled playmaking winger on this Canucks team who has had consistent success with an NHL superstar and if Elias takes the steps that we all believe he will take this season, the team will need a player who can play with a budding NHL superstar.

Unlike in the past, JT Miller shouldn’t have work his way up the lineup he has done that on other teams already. He’s played on fourth lines and had success, has been very productive in a third line role and he’s enhanced an NHL superstar’s career, proving he’s up to the task of slotting in on the Canucks top line. He deserves to be on the first scoring unit because he makes the players around him better and putting those players in the right spot is what a good coach should do.

Miller will have to get off to a hot start if he wants to stay there, though. There are many players other trying to throw their names in the hat: Nikolay Goldobin, Josh Leivo, Sven Baertschi and even Micheal Ferland.

It should be a fun season and I can’t wait to get things going in September at the Save-On-Foods Centre on Vancouver Island.

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Who do you think should play with EP40 and BB6? Is Micheal Ferland’s physical impact and ability to keep the puck out his net at 5 on 5 something you believe should be loaded up with the Canucks’ two most prolific scoring players or would you like to see the playmaking JT Miller be grouped up with EP40 and BB6?

  • NeverWas

    I think Miller should definitely get a long look but the best thing about this is the Canucks actually have options now. Miller, Goldy or ferland could all be great options on the top line… And sven, Miller or ferland could all be great looks on the second line. Additionally, we could also have a really strong two-way 3rd line. Exciting times in Canuck land!!!

  • DrunkD

    “Miller can be the playmaking winger that Pettersson and Boeser need to take their game to the next level and brings some grit and passing ability.”
    This is what I was thinking about before. If he can get 60+ Assists (which was top 12 in the league last season) and help BB and EP get 35+ goals then he wont need the 25+ goals people want him to get. BB and EP are better shooters so why not let him be that.

  • wojohowitz

    If Miller is as competitive and versatile as some think he is then carrying the 3rd line as a center might make for three lines that can score, defend and lead a balanced attack that would be hard to beat. Of course finding competent wingers is a never ending problem.

    • Cageyvet

      He’s destined for our top 6 to start the season, but having that flexibility with him is a definite plus. I’d prefer to see him with Petey and Brock to start the season, he’s a better playmaker than scorer and those two don’t lack finish, it could be a great fit.

  • Dirty30

    Given that Brock and Petey are such balanced scorers I’d like to see Miller play centre and simply keep distributing the puck to whichever side is open. Even if Petey is penned in the line up as the putative centre, he is certainly versatile and talented enough to slide into a winger position and let Miller play centre for face-offs and distributing the puck.

  • 51Geezer

    Excellent analysis. Probably the way it will start. However, after the first several games, the coach might believe the line needs the threat of violence, and Ferland is moved in. Maybe.

  • tyhee

    From the article:

    “JT Miller should be the left winger on the EP40-BB6 line because he is the most qualified man for the job.”

    The article makes an argument that Miller fits well with EP40 and BB6 from a playmaking standpoint but in order to say he is the best fit it is necessary to consider how well the other candidates might fit, defensive play, physical play, who fits best with Horvat (and presumably Pearson, though it isn’t certain that Pearson will be on Horvat’s wing) and in general whether playing LW with EP and BB is the most productive use, relatively, that could be made of Miller.

    I’d like to see an analysis of how Miller fits in overall (not just on a playmaking basis for EP and BB to score goals) with EP and BB, how well Ferland and other candidates fit in with them overall and use that to consider where Miller should play. Presumably he can be effective with EP and BB, but is there a place he can be more useful?

  • Robson Street

    The Canucks had the worst bottom 6 in the league last year. I have a lot of time for rosters that prioritize three effective lines and that keep the 4th off the ice as much as possible. To me that means playing Miller at Centre and spreading out the wingers. Something like Horvat and Baertschi, Pettersson and Ferland, Miller and Boeser and rotate the second winger. Far more difficult to game-plan and shut down and you minimize the impact of guys like Eriksson, Sutter and Beagle at even strength (and let them focus on special teams). Get the band back together on the powerplay.