Elias Pettersson and JT Miller have stepped up to almost completely cover Bo Horvat’s statistical contributions since his departure

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
Though it feels like it’s been longer, only six weeks have passed since the January 30 trade that sent Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks to the New York Islanders.
At the time, many predicted the trade to be the official death-knell of the Canucks’ 2022/23 season. They were already circling the drain by that point, and now they were going to have to operate without their 60-goal-pacing, defensive-matchup-handling 2C and captain. Things were about to get ugly.
Or were they?
Since the trade, the Canucks have actually gone 8-6-2, which is still nothing to write home about, but is a better record than the one they were putting up with Horvat in the lineup.
So what gives?
The answer, as it often is in these sorts of situations, is that everyone gives — and we’re not talking Calico Cut Pants. The Canucks have been asked to replace Horvat’s contributions to the lineup by committee, and they’ve responded by giving more.
And no two players more so than Elias Pettersson and JT Miller.
The Canucks entered the 2022/23 promising a 1-2-3 pivot-punch of Pettersson, Miller, and Horvat. Then, Miller’s long-term future as a centre was once again called into question, and he spent a decent chunk of the season back on the wing. But the Horvat trade made it clear: Pettersson and Miller were now the de facto 1C and 2C, at least for the present day and quite possibly into the foreseeable future.
The early returns on that, at the very least, have been encouraging, with Pettersson and Miller stepping up to cover the loss of Horvat’s statistical, on-ice contributions — and probably a fair chunk of his off-ice duties, too.
Elias Pettersson, Post-Horvat
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPPGPower Play PointsShorthanded PointsPlus/ MinusFaceoff %
2022/23 Pre-Trade472137581.23142+843.5%
2022/23 Post-Trade16915241.5046+344.1%
One has to imagine that being an NHL 1C is a much easier job when one has as talented and as multipurpose a centre as Horvat behind them. Nevertheless, the post-Horvat version of Pettersson has been performing at not just the level of a 1C, but an outright elite one.
The most obvious way in which Pettersson has helped cover the absence of Horvat is on the scoreboard. Despite playing fewer than two extra minutes per night post-trade, Pettersson has ratcheted up his production, rising from a 1.23 PPG to an even point-and-a-half-per-game.
Only six other NHLers have scored more in the same interim.
Pettersson’s rate of assists has risen to nearly one-per-game, but so too has his goal-scoring. He might not be quite up to Horvat’s previous pace toward 60 goals, but Pettersson has been pacing for approximately 46 goals over a full schedule since Horvat was dealt. Prior to the trade, Pettersson was pacing for fewer than 40.
Pettersson hasn’t yet begun to replace Horvat’s goal-scoring on the power play, but his contributions with the man advantage have at least remained consistent. Shorthanded, Pettersson has already put up more points post-Horvat than Horvat himself did in the three-quarters of the season prior.
Defensively-speaking, Pettersson is facing tougher matchups and posting slightly better results at even-strength. His faceoffs have seen a minor uptick, but he’s still got a long way to go before he even belongs in the same conversation as Horvat there.
But, like we said, this thing is being done by committee, and Pettersson is leading that committee in a big way. Having already broken out to a new level of production this season, it might have been tempting to think that Pettersson didn’t have any more to give in 2022/23.
Clearly, he did.
JT Miller, Post-Horvat
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsPPGPower Play PointsShorthanded PointsPlus/ MinusFaceoff %
2022/23 Pre-Trade491826440.90220-1451.0%
2022/23 Post-Trade15610161.0727+357.8%
If people questioned how Pettersson might perform in the absence of Horvat, then they definitely questioned how Miller would perform.
And so far, the answer is ‘with aplomb.’
Miller, too, has seen an uptick in scoring, picking up goals, assists, and points at a greater rate post-Horvat. It’s not quite as dramatic a jump as that made by Pettersson, but Miller is still up from a .90 PPG to a 1.07, which is significant.
In fact, if you take Miller’s .17 increase in production and combine it with Pettersson’s .27 increase in production, you wind up with an extra .44 points-per-game overall, which is nearly half of what Horvat himself was putting up.
That makes it a lot easier for the rest of the roster to cover the remainder.
But Miller has also stepped up his game in several other ways that have helped make the transition from Horvat a lot easier to manage.
Oddly enough, Miller’s power play production has slowed down significantly without Horvat in the bumper position. But that’s secondary to an outright explosion in shorthanded points. Almost half of Miller’s post-Horvat points have come while killing a penalty. Not only has Miller neatly replaced Horvat as Pettersson’s partner on the league’s most dangerous PK unit, he’s arguably surpassed Horvat’s contributions there already.
That goes along well with Miller’s increased defensive duties and improved defensive results since the trade. Miller isn’t playing much more at even-strength, but he is facing more difficult matchups. Plus/minus might be a flawed stat, but it still says something when a player swings from -14 all the way up to +3. Miller is clearly taking his defensive responsibilities more seriously sine the trade, and it’s showing.
The same goes for faceoffs. Miller has always won more than he’s lost, but he previously struggled to approach the 55+% numbers consistently put up by Horvat. Since Horvat departed, Miller has won 57.8% of his faceoffs — and he’s been taking a lot more of them, and often in more important situations than he usually would.
And that’s just what the numbers can tell us. As we said at the outset, Pettersson and Miller’s contributions no doubt extend far beyond the stat-sheet, and their importance to the team’s fortunes post-Horvat cannot be understated.
The proof is on the boxscore, it’s in the team record, and it’s apparent to anyone employing the eye-test.
Pettersson and Miller have raised the level of their game in concert at the time when the Canucks needed them to most.
And they’ve lifted the rest of the team up with them as they’ve done so.
What more could be asked for in the wake of a captain leaving?

Check out these posts...