The Canucks need to contain McDavid and Draisaitl. Is JT Miller the man for the job?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
1 month ago
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It’s not exactly a secret that the Edmonton Oilers are a top-heavy team. And that isn’t a bad thing, especially when you have two of the best players in the league who are now among the best playoff scorers of all time.
There’s probably no stopping Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl in this series. They’ve proven that they can throw this Edmonton team on their backs if necessary and drag them kicking and screaming to wins. With the likes of Zach Hyman able to bury home any of the second chances that these two generate, it’s paramount to the Canucks’ chances of winning this series to be able to slow them down, if not stop them. But who is up for doing that?
Throughout their regular season matchups, JT Miller has been Rick Tocchet’s man to answer that calling. Through their three games against each other (because McDavid was hurt for the final Canucks-Oilers game of the year), Miller has been used primarily in a matchup role to face off against the best player in the NHL.
He’s more than aware of how dangerous McDavid is. “You could play what seemed like a perfect shift, and all of a sudden, he’s gone,” Miller said. It’s happened a fair share of times to him – In their last contest on November 11th, McDavid rocked Miller to the tune of 77.27 CF%, 63.30 xGF%, and 57.14 HDCF%. In every game, the Oilers’ centreman has controlled the CF% and xGF% share whenever he’s faced off against Miller, even when hobbled with injury in that 8-1 drubbing at the start of the year. Numbers like these don’t usually tend to lead to lots of success, but that’s what McDavid does to most teams that face him.
However, what Miller has accomplished tangibly is impressive, even if the share metrics don’t favour him. The fact that he has over 26 minutes of ice time directly against McDavid, all without conceding a single goal, is something that not a lot of players in the league can boast. Giving up those chances, however, is part of the plan for Miller – and something that helps direct the focus inward instead of outward.
“You’re not going to eliminate all the looks when you play against a guy like Connor,” Miller said. “But you know, we’ve proven that this year, when we focus and play our game and worry about ourselves, we can have the results.”
Miller’s got a good routine going too with these matchup duties.”It’s about changing at the right time and making sure if he’s going to do something, you got to make him go the whole length of the ice,” he said. “You got to make sure we’re trying to keep them to the outside as much as possible.”
Keeping the high-danger chances to a minimum has been something Miller’s been effective at doing too. Across the three contests, the Canucks’ centerman has only given up 5 high-danger opportunities to McDavid, with 4 of them coming in that November 11th game. That means for the first two matchups, the best player in the entire world only had 1 high-danger chance when playing against JT Miller.
The volume of expected goals was also lower for McDavid when playing against Miller. For instance, on November 14th, McDavid held a 78.13 xGF% share. The thing is, that was a little misleading – McDavid only registered a raw 0.07 xGF against Miller, basically nothing over the grand scheme of the game. It was similar for the October 11th game too, where McDavid only generated 0.18 xGF against Miller. The only game where McDavid did McDavid things against Miller was November 11th, getting 0.87 xGF in that game. Even then, he was held off the scoresheet with the Canucks winning 6-2.
It’s results like these that make Rick Tocchet confident of Miller’s ability to take on heavy matchup duties in the series. “When you play Edmonton, you have to have some players that have high hockey IQ,” Tocchet said when asked about deploying Miller against McDavid. “There are times when they go and not to go, do I take back ice? Do I press? There are a lot of different decisions to make in those split seconds.”
“We got some guys, they’ve got a pretty good brain when it comes to that.”
It’ll remain to be seen if Miller can achieve the same sort of results in the postseason as he did in the regular season. McDavid looks hot, with Draisaitl being the perfect compliment. It’ll also be interesting to see if Miller’s offensive contributions can stay the same as in the Predators’ series. But from his body of work over this season’s sample size, there’s probably no one more fit for the task of taking on the bull by the horns than JT Miller.
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