The Canucks have been around for 50 years now, and at few points in that history have they ever been considered a physical team.
It’s even rarer that the team has had a first line player leading their team in hits. In fact, since the NHL began tracking hits in 2007-08, the Canucks’ team leader in hits has not once finished top five in team scoring. The last time anybody came close was when Ryan Kesler finished second in hits and third in team scoring behind Kevin Bieksa and Daniel Sedin, respectively.
This year, however, the team’s leader in hits is currently a point-per-game player.
It’s become clear that general manager Jim Benning and the rest of the organization have put a focus on surrounding their young core of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes with skilled players who can also bring a physical presence to the game.
This is evident with the Vasili Podkolzin pick, and more immediately, of the offseason acquisitions of Micheal Ferland and J.T. Miller. The Canucks know they have legitimate superstars in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and now the focus needs to shift to surrounding these young stars with the right complementary pieces.
So far, Miller has exceeded all expectations playing alongside Pettersson.
Initially, there was a lot of speculation in the market that Micheal Ferland would slot in on the first line, and that Miller would finally give Horvat the scoring winger he’d been looking since entering the league. After struggling with injuries and having a slow start to his preseason, however, Ferland was quickly relieved of his first line duties in favour of Miller, who has firmly established himself as a fixture on the top line ever since.
Miller and Pettersson have become inseparable and have developed some serious chemistry. Miller is enjoying a career year all the while maintaining the hard-nosed style of play that made him one of the few successful players in the playoffs last year when his President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning team got swept in the first round.
Miller has shown off his high-end hockey IQ for the Canucks this season, which has made him an ideal fit for the equally cerebral Elias Pettersson.
Here’s a clip of Miller and Pettersson combining to set up Jake Virtanen for a door step opportunity:
— Matt (@dooley_matt_) December 24, 2019
Here’s Miller using his strength to take the put hard to the net and Pettersson trailing close behind before tucking home the rebound:
J.T. Miller redeems himself by taking the net puck to the net — Elias Pettersson banking in the rebound goal pic.twitter.com/jlOK7RjNGZ
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) December 20, 2019
The Canucks arguably haven’t had a physical presence like Miller playing on their first line since Alex Burrows… unless you count Michael Chaput, I guess.
If Miller can continue throwing his weight around, and play big at both ends of the ice, he will be the exact type of player the Canucks will want on their first line when it comes playoff time.