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J.T. Miller carried the load this past week, meshed well with the new guy

Four reasons why J.T. Miller was the best player on the Canucks this week.
J.T. Miller warms up without a helmet with the Vancouver Canucks. photo: Dan Toulgoet

In the fifth edition of Quads’ Awesome Canuck of the Week, J.T. Miller takes home this most prestigious of honours… again.

The Canucks as a whole struggled this past week, losing three of four games and only barely pulling out their one win in overtime. Whether it was ill-timed penalties, defensive breakdowns, or offensive no-shows, a lot of Canucks didn't have their best week.

J.T. Miller, however, was not one of them.

While Miller has already been the Quadsome Canuck of the Week, the way he dragged his team through the mud this past week made it difficult not to give him the honours once again. Here are four awesome things Miller did last week.

1 | He played well with Tyler Toffoli

It’s scary getting traded to a new team, especially when you’ve never been traded before. Tyler Toffoli was drafted and developed by the Los Angeles Kings, and even won the Stanley Cup with them. L.A. is all he’s ever known when it comes to his professional career, but Toffoli knew that he was likely to be moved by a rebuilding Kings team.

Getting traded to the Canucks is something Miller knows all about, even if it wasn't mid-season like Toffoli. Miller welcomed Toffoli to the top line with open arms.

Miller was originally thought to be the answer for Bo Horvat’s wing, but the real fit came with Elias Pettersson. Along with Brock Boeser, Miller and Pettersson found loads of success and the “Lotto Line” was one of the best lines in hockey earlier in the year. 

With Boeser potentially out until the playoffs with a rib injury, in came Toffoli, who slid onto the first line and has been dynamite ever since. Toffoli has fit right in with Pettersson and Miller, and the trio have actually generated more offence than the aforementioned Lotto Line.

At even-strength, the Canucks have scored 5.49 goals per 60 minutes with Miller, Pettersson, and Toffoli on the ice, compared to 4.46 with Miller, Pettersson, and Boeser.

Maybe that won't last, but if Toffoli continues to find success on the top line, it would bode well for the Canucks’ playoff chances, as well as make the Canucks a more tempting place for Toffoli to re-sign.

2 | He carried the load when Pettersson struggled to put up points.

A lot was made last season of Elias Pettersson’s decline in point production. He still managed to win the Calder Trophy and break the Canucks’ rookie points record, but the drop off in production in the latter half of the season was noticeable.

Through his first 40 games, Pettersson tallied 23 goals and 22 assists. In the final 31 games of his rookie season, he managed just five goals and 16 assists. A huge reason for this is the Canucks desperately lacking secondary scoring last season.

To put it into context, Pettersson began the season with Nikolay Goldobin and Loui Eriksson as his linemates. Even with these less than spectacular linemates, Pettersson managed to put up 10 goals in his first 10 games, but without good linemates, it’s virtually impossible to keep up a pace like that.

So when the Canucks went out and traded for legitimate top six options like Miller and Toffoli, both of whom play on Pettersson’s line, good things happen.

Prior to last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pettersson had just five points in his last 10 games. Meanwhile, Miller carried the load while Pettersson worked to get back to the level of play at which he usually competes. 

This past week, Miller had six points in four games, continuing his strong play from previous weeks: he's got five goals and seven assists in his last ten games. That gives him 26 goals and 68 points in 65 games to lead the Canucks in scoring and is currently 14th in the NHL in points.

3 | He was tenacious on the forecheck, and superior at puck retrievals on the power play.

The Canucks power play hasn’t looked this good in a while. The Canucks converted on four of their nine power play chances this past week, with Miller tallying a point on three of those four goals.

But what does Miller really bring to the Canucks’ man advantage? There are a number of answers to this question, but the most important is puck retrievals. Miller is a superior play driver and rarely loses a puck battle. This is extremely helpful when opposing penalty killers are trying to gather the puck to send the Canucks’ power play personnel back down the ice, forcing them to reset and once again gain the offensive zone.

Instead, there are countless instances where the Canucks keep opposing penalty killers hemmed in their own end because of Miller’s ability to re-gain puck possession and keep the puck in the offensive zone and swing it back to his teammates.

Alex Edler once described the power play succinctly: "It’s simple: you get the puck to the net, then you get the puck back. Then you do it over again." Miller excels at getting the puck back. 

4 | He answered questions (and played) like an alternate captain would. 

J.T. Miller doesn’t have a letter on his jersey other than the ones on his back. The Canucks’ main alternate captains are Brandon Sutter and Alex Edler, and the captain is Bo Horvat. Players like Miller will likely never admit that having a letter means much to them, because they lead by example.

But Miller truly has emerged as a leader. His no-excuses attitude resonates with everybody in the Canucks’ locker room, and Miller doesn’t mince words after his team loses a game he feels they could have performed better in. Take Sunday night’s loss to Columbus, where the Canucks squandered a lead late in the game.

“The one thing that [Miller]’s exceeded my expectations in is the leadership that he's brought in the room with our younger players,” said Jim Benning recently. “He’s mentored some of them and helped them along their path.”

Miller brings a high level of intensity and effort each and every night, and sets an example for all of his teammates to follow each and every night. 

Players see this and will naturally think to themselves, “This guy’s doing his part, am I doing mine?”