JT Miller’s road to tying Todd Bertuzzi for 7th-most points in a Canucks season
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
When Canucks fans look back at the Jim Benning era, not a lot of successful blockbuster trades come to mind, except for one. Backtrack to June of 2019 when the NHL draft was taking place in Vancouver, Benning & CO. acquired Tampa Bay forward JT Miller in exchange for goalie prospect Marek Mazanec, Vancouver’s third-round pick in the draft, and a conditional 2020 pick.
At the time of the deal, JT Miller had just finished his first season under a new five-year $5.25 million contract covered until the 2022-23 season. Although, this was a hefty contract to take on alongside the Loui Eriksson six for six pit the team was still trying to get out of, knowing what fans do know, keeping Miller under lock for less than $6 million for three years was well worth it.
The Canucks were looking for somebody with enough skill to play on a line with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, but with enough feistiness and compete to elevate the two youngsters’ games. Mission accomplished.
The prospects and picks that the Canucks did have to surrender for Miller also didn’t amount to much, although the present-day Canucks organization has an even bigger challenge to clear cap space (most likely in trades) to keep the 29-year-old around or shop the market for an adequate return this summer.
Mazanec, a Nashville Predators draft pick, played 10 games in the AHL, and less than 40 in his entire NHL career. He has since returned to play in the Czech Republic. The most crushing blow, which was hardly felt at all, was Vancouver’s third-round pick in the 2019 draft used by the Lightning to select goaltender Hugo Alnefelt. Nevertheless, he has bounced around Tampa Bay’s system from the Syracuse Crunch to the Orlando Solar Bears.
The conditional 2020 pick was made a little bit more complicated by the COVID-19 pause, which forced the league to implement a makeshift playoff format including an opening play-in round. With the Canucks taking part in the summer bubble, the conditional pick was made into a first-round selection in the upcoming draft.
Ultimately, Vancouver’s first-round pick fell into the hands of the New Jersey Devils from the Lightning. With three first-round picks in the 2020 draft, the Devils used their final pick to draft defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin, who still remains in the KHL.
Not only had the Canucks spared themselves from giving away a potential franchise superstar, but they had also managed to get Miller when he was playing his best hockey. Former head coach Travis Green explained that he liked the compete Miller demonstrated in the playoffs, both during his time with the New York Rangers and Lightning.
Would that have anything to do with his NHL comparable in the 2011 NHL draft being none other than former Canuck Mason Raymond? No, but it is crazy to imagine how much better Miller panned out to be.
Leading up to his time in Vancouver, Miller was a member of the Rangers’ 2014 Stanley Cup run that just came up short. He set his previous season-high of 22 goals in the 2016-17 season with the team, before transitioning to Tampa.
There, he was specifically integral on the team’s powerplay unit, racking up a total of 22 powerplay points of his 47 on the year. With Miller consistently reaching the 40-point mark, Vancouver was expecting him to help prop up some of the younger players, much like Bo Horvat had done.
What people, however, didn’t expect was for Miller to do that and become the star of the line. In 69 games with his new club, Miller had set a new personal best in goals and assists for himself with 27 and 45, respectively.
At one point or another in the early beginnings of the 2020 year, the Canucks actually sat atop of the Pacific standings and were in the top 10 in goals scored by the end of the season. For the first time in five years, the Canucks had made the playoffs.
In his following two years with the team, Miller has truly come into his own as a leader, helping to develop a winning culture and belief in the dressing room. And he has backed it up with a truly dominant season.
Fans have come to expect excellence from Miller, but his ability to generate offence and almost effortlessly pick up points is unlike anything fans have seen in a minute.
With just two games remaining in the season, Miller is only three points away from joining the 100-point club for the first time in his career. A lot of the success of the Canucks revived powerplay has had to do with Miller’s 37 power play points. The last time fans saw this level of production in a forward on the powerplay was from Daniel Sedin during the 2010-11 season, and Markus Naslund in 2005-06.
This season alone, Miller has logged the most minutes, hits, and blocks amongst forwards, and has the most assists, shots, and best-expected goals amongst the team.
It’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement in his game. More than a few times, Miller has been caught pinching and caused an odd-man rush in OT or has failed to come back at all.
The impact, however, that he has made in three years with the team and amongst franchise leaders is something to marvel at. Miller’s goal last game against the Kraken helped to tie him for seventh with Todd Bertuzzi for the single-season points record, currently held by Henrik Sedin.
Frankly, Miller is in a class of his own for this era of Canucks forwards. Elias Pettersson has his name on a fair share of lists as well, but Miller is right there pushing for records that haven’t been touched for years. Minus Henrik Sedin, most of the point leaders are from the early 2000s teams captained by Trevor Linden, or teams of the iconic 90s black skate jersey.
With the Canucks now officially out of playoff contention, new management will be looking to assemble a playoff-bound team this offseason. Miller will be one of those names that will get a fair bit of attention with one year remaining on his contract.
Whatever does happen this offseason, one thing is certain, fans are finally seeing the same offensive flair that the franchise has been missing out on since the absence of the twins.
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