Only the Buffalo Sabres had less points through the previous three seasons than the Vancouver Canucks.
So when the Pacific division team traded a future first-round selection to the Tampa Bay Lightning for J.T. Miller, most of the hockey world was left confused. The trade was widely considered a mistake before Miller even played a single minute for the Canucks.
With recent history in mind, there was concern on the conditions for the pick. If the Canucks don’t make the playoffs this season, the pick sent to Tampa will be pushed back to 2021. Making this a somewhat all-in scenario for the Canucks, it’s now imperative that they make the playoffs at least once in the next two seasons in order to avoid gifting the Lightning with a potential lottery pick.
Through the first 12 games of the season (I know, it’s early), the team boasts an 8-3-1 record, putting them right in line to potentially make the post-season for the first time in five seasons. Leading the way for the Canucks has been the line featuring Miller with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
When these three are on the ice together, the Canucks have 63.59 per cent of the shot attempt share and 63.08 per cent of the expected goal rate at 5-on-5. The line is dominating its opposition, and all three forwards are currently Vancouver’s top scorers.
There was a similar story in Colorado last season. The top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen was able to carry the Avalanche for most of the regular season and into a fairly successful playoff run.
Through all of 2018-19, that line carried just 50.86 per cent of the expected goal share and 54.74 per cent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5. The duration of a complete season obviously had an affect on those numbers, but considering that the Avalanche were somewhat successful while being dependent on one above-average line, this should give the Cancuks confidence in being able to do the same.
The Miller line’s current 13.43 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 will likely regress closer to the 8.98 shooting percentage the Avalanche’s top line had last season, but we’ll have to wait and see.
But there’s no denying Miller’s impact on this line. With seven goals and 14 points in 12 games, Miller has been one of the league’s best in terms of on-ice contribution. That tiny Canucks logo to the top-right of the graph below is the 26-year-old forward.
When it comes to shot attempts, Miller is able to control the play both offensively and defensively for his team.
It’s not often that a newly-acquired player is able to do this for his new club. Right from the start of his tenure in Vancouver, Miller has generated nothing but positive reviews.
The key has been what Miller has been in the past.
Miller has always been this type of player. Looking at his 5-on-5 isolates — taking away all the noise of teammate, opposition and coaching impact, developed by Micah Blake McCurdy — there has been significant contributions from Miller on both ends of the ice.
His offensive input coming in at over 10 per cent above league average — not to mention his defensive isolate displaying a significant impact for preventing the opposition at getting shots off at about 7.6 per cent better than league average — is purely dominant.
This paints a clear picture that helps to reveal why the Canucks felt comfortable giving up a potentially high draft pick for Miller.
The absolute worst-case scenario is the team falling out of the playoffs for the next two years and giving up a lottery pick in 2021 for a team that likely could use it. Even considering that terrible outcome, for a player that clearly has the ability to contribute, is still young, and is signed to a contract for four more seasons at a $5.25-million cap hit, it wouldn’t be the worst trade the Canucks have made.
All signs point to a fair trade when the dust settles. Since there’s little concern about an upcoming contract extension or an aging skater, Miller can potentially be a solid workhorse forward for the remainder of his manageable contract.
Right now, it looks like the Canucks are bound for the playoffs and most of that can be contributed to the addition of Miller to compliment the talent of Pettersson and Boeser.
It’s been five long years for the Canucks and seven since they were able to win a playoff series. Giving up a first-round pick to end that drought for a fanbase that has been through a lot could be worth it.
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