J.T. Miller has become known for a lot of things since he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks back in 2019.
Whether it be audible f-bombs, leading the charge on end-to-end herculean efforts off the rush, or being an absolute dynamo on the power play, Miller has found a home in Vancouver.
Which is only part of the reason why he signed a seven-year deal to stay in the city long-term.
“I’m a family guy and I like to spend time at home,” Miller said. “But it doesn’t really matter how far away that is, at this point. I just want to win and I want to be at a place where we feel comfortable and we have good relationships, and we kind of have all three of those here.”
“We have a lot of good things to be excited about in Vancouver.”
Like Vin Diesel in a Fast & Furious movie, ‘family’ was the main thing on Miller’s mind. He and his wife Natalie welcomed their third child, Owen, on the same day he signed his seven-year, $56 million deal. As much as the extension itself centred around his offensive prowess, the move also allows the 29-year-old to take on a more veteran leadership role for a team full of young, developing talent.
“At some point, you mature to a certain level, and hopefully it keeps getting better and better the older I get. I always say the best voice carries by your play and if you play well I mean it’s the best way to lead,” Miller said. “But at the same time I’m a talkative guy and I enjoy that part of sports, and it’s something I’m trying to get better at every year.”
While Miller will be entering the back half of his career by the time his extension kicks in before the 2023-24 season, he understands where his deficiencies on the ice lie as well. His struggles defensively were of particular note last year, and he hopes to greatly improve his play in his own end.
“I look at some of my favourite players around the league, and they play in their own end first and a 200-foot game all the time and are very hard to play against. I want to excel to that level and be equally as hard to play against in my own end as I am in the offensive end. I don’t feel like it is right now, so that’s something I’m really going to be working for.”
“Team defence is so important, and I think if I can add that to my game and then once we get it in the offensive zone, just do what comes natural for me.”
His natural scoring ability is why GM Patrik Allvin and President Jim Rutherford made extending him a priority. For his part, Miller felt the change in management made it all the easier for him to choose to stay long-term.
“This team hasn’t been, other than one year in the bubble, a playoff team in a very long time, and I think it was time for a change,” Miller said of the Canucks’ December management change. “Those two have such a good track record of winning, especially for a couple of organizations that are very accustomed to that, and it’s just another reason I want to be a part of that.”
“Change is good sometimes. It’s tough to see friends or colleagues go but it’s another reason I’m excited to come back.”
When Miller first arrived in Vancouver after a draft day trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the expectation was that he’d play out the remaining three years of his contract before taking on a new middle-six role elsewhere. But not even Miller himself expected to be where he is now, earning NHL star money to anchor a Canucks locker room building towards regular playoff contention.
“We’ve come a long way and I think we’ve gotten tighter knit as I’ve been here. I’m in my fourth year here already, there’s a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces too. But this group really enjoys each other’s time, it’s just a fun group. We won a lot when Bruce got here we had a lot of fun and we want to do more,” Miller said.
Miller’s head coach has had plenty of positive things to say about him of late. Bruce Boudreau has publically called Miller the Canucks’ number one centre, and his star had equal praise for the bench boss and the atmospheric change that’s come with him.
“It was a great fit from the day he got here, and I know he’s excited to be back as well,” Miller said. “He’s definitely challenging me on a nightly basis, and I want to embrace that. Whether it’s first-line center or third-line wing, it doesn’t matter. I just want our team to be good.”
And Miller firmly believes his team can be good. His choice to extend his time in Vancouver came together because he feels the team that set the NHL on fire in the second half of last season were the real Canucks that’ll show up this year, rather than the group that lost so routinely during the first two months.
“I think we learned a lot about starts to seasons and how important they are. We need to be ready from the time training camp starts and carry that momentum through the preseason, into game one and enjoy doing it. It’s gonna be a fun time for everybody if we play well.”
But whether or not the Canucks win more consistently in the coming year, Miller and his tenure in Vancouver will still be judged by the one aspect fans are most desperate to see; playoff success. Miller wants to see it too, and he feels that time is coming sooner than one might think.
“Winning in the regular season is great, but that’s not why we play. We want to get back to the playoffs and we want to win when it counts,” Miller said. “For a lot of guys that haven’t played in a playoff series in front of fans, it’s a different beast and I think that it’s a contagious thing. That’s what’s so exciting about it.”
“I think the best is yet to come.”