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[Article] Canucks star J.T. Miller leaving ‘turmoil’ behind, setting sights on more wins


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Canucks star J.T. Miller leaving ‘turmoil’ behind, setting sights on more wins


VANCOUVER — For someone so combustible, a player with the talent and emotion to either fire up his team or self-immolate, J.T. Miller has actually been pretty consistent.


In the four seasons since he came to the Vancouver Canucks, Miller is 12th in scoring in the National Hockey League, with 299 points in 283 games. Among forwards who have played 200 games, he is fifth in time on ice, 16th in faceoff percentage and 22nd in hits.


Through two pandemic seasons and another two of destructive upheaval within the Canucks, Miller has missed only six games. He plays with burn marks.


For all this, the American power forward earned a seven-year, $56-million extension from the Canucks that starts this season. His $8-million cap hit is tied for 59th in the league and, obviously, will sink over the life of his contract. It’s possible J.T. Miller will, too.


But the winger/centre feels his best seasons — his most complete seasons as a player — are ahead of him because at age 30 he is still learning about the game and himself.

“I think I’ve improved every year,” Miller told Sportsnet during a thoughtful interview on Wednesday. “There’s been moments that have been testy for sure, and I’ve touched on those things publicly. But over the grand scheme of things, I’m happy with myself. I still have a ways to go but I’m a very emotional person. I’ve actually come a long way in that department — maybe not losing my mind and just moving on.


“My whole life, it’s been trying to be even-keel, more even-keel and less volatile. Aside from a couple of news clippings, I have gotten better at that. And I think, at times, I’ve shown that I can play against any line in the league, and I take a lot of pride in that. I still want to become one of the top 200-foot players in the league.”


Then he pauses and added: “If you look at the last four years since I’ve been here, like, it has been crazy. Those aren’t normal situations. So, I have a total trust in myself and faith in myself.”


Obviously, so does Canucks management. For better or worse, the sides married last summer when they agreed to the extension that provides Miller and his family a full no-movement clause for the next four years.


The player who has generated more frantic conjecture, trade rumours, debate and criticism than anyone else on the Canucks the last two years is going nowhere.


Miller is coming off his second straight 32-goal campaign (82 points) for an organization that was, as he aptly described last year, a “sh– show” the first half of the season.


New coach Rick Tocchet, in harmony with general manager Patrik Allvin and president Jim Rutherford, has managed to clear the manure and quell the melodrama since replacing Bruce Boudreau as coach in January.

Tocchet has also coaxed from Miller the best version of the player.


“Everything kind of changed when Rick and his staff got here,” Miller said. “It felt good the last 30 games last year as a team. The toxic environment, it changed. All the turmoil seemed to kind of go away and it was fun again coming to the rink.


“We’re trying to make the environment different. I guess the thing that stands out … is everybody’s just a little more mature. Everybody’s a year older. We went through hell and back, it seems, the last couple of years in this organization. So, to be in a spot where we can kind of take a deep breath and learn how to play hockey as a team … I’m not putting a marker on what our season is going to look like, but I just feel like we’re a better team now with our additions. And we’re better now because we’re a year older and a little more mature. Things are changing for the good. You can feel that around the room.”


Moved back to the middle from the left wing after captain Bo Horvat was traded the week after Tocchet’s arrival, Miller is expected to start his 13th professional season Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers with wingers Brock Boeser and Phil Di Giuseppe on a line that will get the most difficult matchups.


Miller has said he will happily score less if sacrificing offence for better defending translates to more wins.

“If I’m playing against the other team’s top line every night and I’m doing my job, the points should come less often, you know what I mean?” Miller said. “That’s just how it works, and that’s OK. Last year … me, Phil and Boes took a lot of pride in playing against other teams’ top lines. We didn’t give them a whole lot.


“I played in New York, and we had a Presidents’ Trophy (in 2015 with the Rangers) and 60 points led the team in scoring. You play the right way, you don’t give up as much. Everybody looks better when you’re winning.”


So will the Canucks, who have missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, finally start winning again this season?


“I know the fans and media want it tomorrow, but it’s not just going to happen,” Miller said. “We’ve got to work to get there. It starts with being prepared. I don’t think we’re looking past tomorrow.


“If we prepare and do what we’re supposed to do, I mean, the results will speak for themselves. We have the talent, we have the goaltending and we have depth. And we have a very competitive camp this year. There’s a lot of positives.”


When the Canucks named Quinn Hughes captain last month and invited Miller, Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko to stand at the side of the press conference room, it didn’t change the team’s leadership. It merely formalized it. Miller and Pettersson are alternate captains.


“I couldn’t be happier for Quinn,” Miller said. “He’s so deserving of it, and the guy wants to win more than anybody. He’s been our best player. Petey’s been great, too, but (Quinn is) our most consistent player since I’ve been here. He changes the way the game is played.


“Since Rick got here, (Hughes has) taken his leadership to another level. Clearly, everybody saw that and that’s why he’s an easy fit (as captain). He’s got a ton to learn; I think he’d be the first to tell you that. But the way he plays, the way he carries himself, we couldn’t be prouder and couldn’t be happier for him to be the captain.”


And what about Miller? How does he want to be viewed as he moves into this next phase of his career?

“I just want to be able to say that guys respect me as a player and a person,” he said. “I treat my teammates like family members. You know, it’s a lot of ball busting, a lot of fun. But I also demand a lot out of my teammates and myself. I want to be known as the guy that went to battle for my team every single night.


“I’m hard on guys and hard on myself. That’s just how I am as a person. I wear my heart on my sleeve.”


It covers his entire uniform.




Iain MacIntyre

October 5, 2023, 9:09 AM







Edited by RWJC
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