J.T. Miller is currently top-ten in NHL scoring.
It feels like that ought to be a bigger deal. With 36 points in 34 games, Miller has snuck ahead of the likes of Auston Matthews and Evgeny Kuznetsov into 9th in the NHL in points. He’s not just leading the Vancouver Canucks in scoring; he’s among the NHL’s elite right now.
He’s been particularly good during the Canucks’ nine games under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, where he has a nine-game point streak going, with 13 points, but he’s been consistently putting up points all season long.
Miller’s excellent play has even caught Boudreau off-guard.
“I don’t know where to start with J.T.,” said Boudreau. “He’s a much better player than I ever thought he was.”
“I don’t mean that demeaningly,” he quickly added. “I knew he got traded from the Rangers to Tampa and then from Tampa to here, but I thought he was a left-winger, quite frankly, and now he can play any position you want and he does it the way every coach wants a player to play.
“He plays hard. He's got so much pride and when he doesn't do well, he knows it and he gets angry about it, which I have no problem with that. To me, he's one really good leader and I would take him on my team any time, any day.”
Miller has done a little bit of everything for the Canucks. Or, rather, he’s done a lot of everything.
He leads the Canucks in ice time among forwards, he has the most power play points, and he’s second to only Tyler Myers in ice time on the penalty kill.
“He plays huge minutes for us every night,” said Luke Schenn. “Runs the power play, creates a ton offensively and he’s a rock defensively too…he’s doing it all right now.”
Miller even leads the team in hits, if only just barely ahead of Schenn, who is one of the most prolific hitters in NHL history. That physical element of his game sets him apart from some of the other elite talent on the team.
“People talk a lot about speed these days and creating off the rush — which he can do, we’ve seen some goals like that he scored this year — but the big thing is how strong he is on the puck down low,” said Schenn. “It’s in both ends, but in particular in the offensive zone, getting his head up and making plays and finding open guys.”
Like Boudreau, Schenn said that Miller caught him off guard. When he started skating with some of his new Canucks teammates ahead of training camp, he couldn’t help but notice Miller.
“I remember calling my brother and saying, ‘This Miller, he’s way better than I expected,’” said Schenn. “He opened my eyes right from the first day I was here and he’s been unbelievable for us all year.”
Perhaps the reason Miller seems to surprise people and why him being top ten in NHL scoring hasn’t been a bigger story is because there’s nothing self-aggrandizing about him. Any time he’s asked about his individual achievements, Miller is quick to dismiss them and turn the attention towards the performance of the team.
Even on the ice, Miller deflects attention. When he made a brilliant pass to Bo Horvat for a big goal against the Los Angeles Kings, he simply shrugged and shook his head, as if it was no big deal or as if he didn’t even mean to do it. Even his best plays, he’ll frequently suggest he got lucky or a bounce went his way.
Miller is the epitome of the sports cliché about playing for the logo on the front and not the name on the back.
“When I’m playing well, I give our team a better chance to win, end of story,” said Miller. “If I…get a point, it doesn’t matter to me, what matters is I’m being effective and I’m playing well and chipping in all over the ice in different scenarios.”
“If I’m being impactful and playing my game and moving my feet and playing physical, typically the points will come, so I’m not worried about that,” he added.
So far, the points have come. No worries.