Canucks’ Miller Stepping Up as Injuries Mount

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom has undoubtedly been the Vancouver Canucks’ most valuable player in the 43 games he’s appeared in. Unfortunately, an inopportune injury has put the remainder of his regular season in jeopardy. He is set to be re-evaluated in two weeks. If the worst-case scenario prevails (which is very plausible), he might not see action for another regular-season game this year, since there are only 19 left.

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It is hard to discredit the Swedish netminder’s brilliance thus far, however, barely appearing in over half of the games this season suggests there might be some other candidates deserving of some MVP praise.

J.T. Miller wasted no time grasping the torch from Markstrom and putting the team on his back. Over the next month of hockey, it will be Miller who leads the Canucks into playoff contention and makes his case for team MVP.

Trade and Expectations

Back in June, the then-rebuilding Canucks took a fair amount of criticism for trading a first and third-round pick for Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that was desperately trying to free up cap space.

Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller
Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Expectations were for Miller to fill Bo Horvat’s wing or slot into the top-six, wherever that might be. It was assumed that Miller would add most intangibles that weren’t at the top of the scoresheet such as grit and being a leader in the locker room. 63 games later, and Miller is leading in more ways than anticipated – leading the team in goals and points.

Miller for MVP

Admirably, Miller has surged during times Vancouver has direly needed offensive production. Since Brock Boeser’s injury (he’s missed seven games), the 26-year-old leads the Canucks with 11 points. Miller’s impressive 1.57 point per game pace during this stretch is significantly higher than the 0.96 points per game that he averaged for the previous 56 games.

The American sniper seems to have doubled down on this narrative with his play during Markstrom’s absence – elevating his game to an even higher level. Three points in two games is a very small sample size although it included arguably his best performance as a Canuck in a losing cause against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 27.

Anaheim Ducks Carter Rowney Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller
Anaheim Ducks right wing Carter Rowney reaches for the puck around Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

The offensive production from the native of East Palestine, Ohio, is the main reason that Vancouver remains in a playoff spot as of late. Miller is aware of the importance of winning these games late in the season, explaining:

“No matter who you are, you have to play a certain way to win and when I say win, I mean big games that matter late in the season.”

from ‘Ed Willes: J.T. Miller settling into leadership role with Canucks,’ The Province, 01/29/2020

It is also necessary to acknowledge the addition of Tyler Toffoli. Together with Quinn Hughes (who has shown impressive improvement throughout the year, barring a few recent games with defensive lapses), the pair have played huge roles in Vancouver being able to maintain their playoff spot in the hotly contested Pacific division.

Of course, budding superstar Elias Pettersson continues to dazzle on a nightly basis, too. However, Pettersson’s scoring pace has dipped recently with just five points in the seven games without Boeser.

Timing is key but Miller has been consistent all year long. He has had only one stretch where he’s gone pointless for longer than three games and brings the tenacity every night on the defensive end.

Vancouver Canucks Bo Horvat Josh Teves J.T. Miller
Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat celebrates with defenseman Josh Teves and forward J.T. Miller (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The gritty forward leads the team in hits and is fourth in the entire league for faceoff percentage. His versatility to be able to play both center and wing gives the Canucks a plethora of options in their top-six. His imposing 54.05 percent Corsi-For rating further demonstrates his ability to dominate on both ends.

It will be interesting to see if the Canucks can stay afloat despite all the crucial injuries and finally clinch a playoff berth. Surely, very few players are more important than Miller when determining if this dream will come to fruition.