The Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of making a big move. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, all options are on the table right now. It’s not clear what that means at this point, but what is clear is something is happening.
The moral victories are gone. The tension is really high…The one thing I was talking about with someone there on the weekend is you can really feel it in the organization. You know, sometimes your organization is really tense because of everything you’re going through. It’s like that with the Canucks right now. Everybody’s looking around at everybody else saying, ‘okay, we’re waiting for something to happen.’ Is it going to be an executive? Is it going to be a coach or is it going to be a player? Who’s it going to be?Elliotte Friedman on ’32 Thoughts: The Podcast’
As Friedman said, tensions are really high in the organization right now. That usually means change is coming and coming soon. A lot of people believe it will ultimately be general manager (GM) Jim Benning or head coach Travis Green getting the axe, but it could also be in the form of trading a core player like J.T. Miller.
With the Canucks in a downward spiral at the quarter-mark of the 2021-22 season, teams are starting to smell blood in the water. We all know about the Minnesota Wild’s interest in Miller, so let’s take a look at a few other teams that could be sniffing around should the Canucks decide to move him instead of firing the GM or head coach.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are a team on the rise with a bunch of young talent in Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko and reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. What they don’t have is elite center depth. Ryan Strome has shown flashes of being a top-six center, but Mika Zibanejad is really the only established one in their lineup. They could use a consistent versatile presence like Miller to push them over the top. They have the cap space to absorb his contract for the next two seasons and he’s familiar with the city having been drafted and developed by them for the first six years of his NHL career.
As for a return, the Canucks should be asking for a package centred around 20-year-old defenceman Braden Schneider. Selected 19th overall in the 2020 Draft by the Rangers, he is exactly what they need to solidify the right side for the foreseeable future. In fact, he could be the perfect partner for Quinn Hughes. He’s mobile, physical and has a very polished two-way game for his age.
Before turning pro with the Hartford Wolfpack in the American Hockey League (AHL), he played five seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Brandon Wheat Kings where he finished with 21 goals and 115 points in 207 games. He is also a former captain of the Wheat Kings and is the reigning WHL Defenceman of the Year.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Another team looking for center depth is the Columbus Blue Jackets. After trading away Pierre-Luc Dubois last season, they are woefully thin down the middle in NHL talent. Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson are good building blocks for the future, but if they want to compete for a playoff spot right now, they need more than Alex Texier and Sillinger in their top six. Currently playing some inspired hockey under new head coach Brad Larsen, playoffs are not just a dream in Columbus anymore. Miller could make that dream more of a reality if he was added to a lineup that is sporting a very surprising record of 10-6-0 right now.
The Blue Jackets are a very young team with a lot of intriguing prospects in their system. It probably won’t happen considering he was just acquired, but I would be targeting Adam Boqvist before anyone else. Like Hughes, he’s a dynamic skater with great offensive instincts who thrives because of his hockey IQ. He also has underrated two-way skill, even though defence is not the first thing you think about when describing his game.
Apart from him, they could also look at Vancouver-native Kent Johnson (probably would require more from the Canucks though), Liam Foudy, or Corson Ceulemans. Of course, first-round picks should also be on the table in any trade involving Miller.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have a very young center core with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. If they acquired Miller, he would probably play the role of mentor and switch between wing and center just like he has done with the Canucks up to this point. He already has experience playing with young stars in Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, so he would fit right in doing the same thing with Hughes and Hischier.
Like the Blue Jackets, the Devils have a lot of young talent in their system. In return, the Canucks could ask for someone like 6-foot-6 shutdown defenceman Kevin Bahl. He’s not a right shot, but he’s got all the tools to be an effective partner for Hughes if he’s able to play on his off-side. Unlike Schneider and Boqvist, he’s more a defensive defenceman in the vein of Chris Tanev. He plays a very calm, no-nonsense defensive game and like Tyler Myers, has a tremendous reach that he uses very effectively when defending forwards one-on-one.
If the Devils don’t want to part with Bahl, the Canucks could also look to Michael McLeod, who would fit the mould of a right-shot third-line center that can win faceoffs and kill penalties. He is 59.8 percent in the faceoff circle and he’s one of the Devils’ top penalty killers with an average of 2:22 shorthanded this season. His speed and two-way game have translated well to the NHL level and he could be exactly what the Canucks need behind Pettersson and Horvat in the future.
If Not Miller, A Trade Will Happen Eventually
Changes are coming to the Canucks’ roster, even if Benning and/or Green are shown the door. Usually, when new regimes are put in place, things happen. If Benning stays in power, which at this point seems unlikely, I still feel a trade is coming soon. When there’s smoke, there’s fire and there has been a lot of smoke lately coming from the direction of the West Coast in recent days.
In addition to trade rumours around Miller, Brock Boeser’s name has come up again as well. He’s no stranger to this as he has had to field questions about his exit from Vancouver as recently as this past offseason. With only one season left on his contract and in line for a huge raise this offseason, the Canucks might actually put him on the trade block for real this time. In any case, some sort of trade is on the horizon, be it Miller, Boeser or someone else, the trade winds will only get stronger as the losing continues.
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.