One of the premier acquisitions this summer by Jim Benning and the rest of the Canucks’ front office, J.T. Miller, was brought in to simply elevate the talent level.will go a long way towards ameliorating that issue next season; but what Miller can really bring to the 2019-20 Canucks is an ability to create offence in a way that not many players on last year’s roster were able to.
It was a common theme last year — a team stuck in their own end or unable to successfully enter the offensive zone with ease, barring a couple players. With Miller hopefully added to the top-six forward group next year, there is a sudden jolt of zone entry success that was absent last season.
Miller doesn’t have the foot speed of most top-line wingers around the league, but instead can think his way through a play and let some of his other assets help him produce.
During one game last season, he displayed exactly this.
While some of the Blue Jackets defenders backed off, Miller was able to receive the pass from Sergachev mid-stride and enter the zone while quickly passing the puck to the open Stamkos to his left.
Miller was the focal point of this play that eventually ended up being a goal. With Stamkos and Killorn on either side of the blue line, waiting for the zone entry, it was up to Miller to receive the pass and bring it into the scoring area — transitioning the play from defence to offence.
On last year’s Lightning team, there was plenty of offensively-minded players, that’s what lead them to having a 120+ point season in the standings. But Miller carried the puck into the zone more than anyone on that roster brimming with talent.
While, Miller had the highest entries per hour, he didn’t always carry it into the zone with possession. Either making a pass or successfully dumping it in, Miller was able to do what was important, which is to transition the puck to the area of the ice where goals happen.
If you take a look back further into his time with the Rangers and his first year with the Lightning included, Miller was able to successfully carry the puck in at a very high rate. Tracking his last three seasons, he was able to carry the puck in 75 per cent of his zone entries, meaning a higher chance of creating something and not losing possession.
And to top it all off, Miller is in the 78 percentile of all players in the league when it came to his zone entries with possession rate. I wouldn’t quite call him a possession machine, but he does it well enough to be a massive improvement on this team.
Compared to last year’s Canucks, Miller will be a welcome addition when it comes to entering the zone. He still had the highest number of entries per hour, while only three Canucks this past season had a higher carry-in percentage.
Last year, there were only a couple options on this team. Players would either never even attempt an entry or carry the puck in, or would enter the zone by a passing play or dump-and-chase.
It might be comparing apples and oranges — the Presidents’ Trophy winners to a team that hasn’t yet found their footing and have wallowed in the bottom-10 of the standings for years now. But it all comes down to the tactics when entering the zone.
The Lightning were a very heavy and fast-paced team last season, they had the skilled players that could exit the zone cleanly and then help their team retain possession all the way into the offensive area. The Canucks, on the other hand, were dead last by an extremely wide margin when it came to entering the offensive zone with possession. They were also one of the worst teams when it came to exiting their own zone.
Whether it was an issue of systems or talent, it’c clear the Canucks were in dire need to turn over some of their roster. Being in the same realm of last year’s Red Wings, Senators and Coyotes isn’t the best look when you want to take a step forward.
Miller can’t bring up the numbers all by himself, but since he will most likely be playing with one of the two centres that were able to carry-in the puck at an above-average rate last season, his numbers will continue to stay where they are.
He certainly won’t drag the line down and since he’s used to playing on such a fast-paced team the last couple of years, he might make some zone-entry magic with Pettersson or Horvat as his centre.
The first round pick the Canucks gave up to acquire Miller is going to be a tough pill for many fans to swallow – especially if they miss the playoffs in the next two years – but there is no question that Miller has made this team better. Even ignoring the fact that he has consistently scored 15-20 goals if he plays a full season, his basic means of getting to the net and entering the offensive zone better than most forwards in the league will be something improves the Canucks dramatically.