Canucks’ Miller Thrives in Pettersson’s Absence

Losing Elias Pettersson was not ideal. The Swedish center has not been able to practice due to an unspecified injury, and the Vancouver Canucks are monitoring him daily. Pettersson’s absence could have upset the team’s balance, given his huge impact, and head coach Travis Green had to shuffle his lines to fill the top-line centre role. Green had the final say on who would cover for Pettersson.

The top line was completely remodeled as Vancouver prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs in a two-game set last Thursday. Nils Höglander was promoted to play alongside Brock Boeser, and left-winger J.T. Miller was moved to centre. Miller — a forward known for his versatility — confirmed what many already knew: he can quickly adapt to a new role. The top line shined under Miller’s guidance, as the Canucks defied the odds to win back-to-backs home games against the Maple Leafs. Vancouver has now won three of four games this month (including a win against the Winnipeg Jets on March 1).

Miller has been a top-line forward this season, but he has spent more time playing on the wing than at centre. His determination to play a different position, as well as the subsequent effect on the team, has pleased the team’s fans and the head coach. Although Pettersson remains the Canucks’ key centre, Miller has provided the team with a suitable backup.

Miller Wanted to Step Up to Fill the Gap

Miller was an effective offensive presence in his new role in Saturday’s 4-2 victory against Toronto, with a goal and two assists. Following the win, Miller told the media that he didn’t think twice about playing at centre as soon as he learned of Pettersson’s injury. He also said that he “felt comfortable at centre,” with six points (three goals, three assists) in his last four games.

Anaheim Ducks Carter Rowney Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller
J.T. Miller (left) appears to be comfortable as a centre. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Miller has played as a centre during spells with the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vancouver has helped add defence to his playing style, which was evident against the Maple Leafs. He backchecked more often, was more aware of the puck’s movement in the offensive zone, and he matched up with John Tavares. Tracking the puck and easily transitioning from defence to forward made Miller appear competent and well-rounded.

Switching from the wing to centre could help Miller to improve his consistency, and it gives him responsibility to cover more ice. Miller, who appeared to be efficient as a centre, showed a major improvement to say that he was often off-pace and lacklustre on the wing.

Pettersson May Have to Work Back to the Top Line

Canucks’ head coach Travis Green made the decision to play Miller in the centre position, but he has to evaluate Pettersson’s role once he returns to full fitness. It may not be wise to rush Pettersson back to the lineup, nor would it make sense to move Miller back to the wing and damage his momentum. Therefore, Green should consider two options when Pettersson is ready: he can play on the wing alongside Bo Horvat or play at centre on the second line. Playing on the second line could help ease Pettersson back into the lineup, although he will almost certainly regain his place on the starting lineup.

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green
Travis Green has to juggle his lines due to Miller playing at centre. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms)

Miller has proven to be a versatile and productive forward. He has quickly built chemistry with the reconstructed top line and has made improvements to his game on the scoresheet and in his attitude towards the game. He has started to gather points on a more consistent basis and understands his defensive responsibilities. Canucks fans can hope that playing in Pettersson’s place will permanently change Miller for the better.

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