Canucks: Newcomer J.T. Miller has been a pleasant surprise

J.T. Miller has been a consistent performer throughout his career, but his first season with the Vancouver Canucks has been quite the surprise.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning took a giant risk when he acquired J.T. Miller in a blockbuster trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning this past offseason, and it predictably led to plenty of criticism from a frustration fanbase.

Benning surrendered a future first-round pick in the trade for the 26-year-old. If Vancouver misses the postseason in 2020, the pick will defer to 2021. But thanks in large part to Miller’s play on the west coast, Canuck fans probably don’t have to worry about the first-rounder becoming a lottery pick.

Miller is playing for his third team in as many seasons, but he’s enjoying the best hockey of his career right here in Vancouver. He has 14 goals and 35 points on the season, and the veteran forward should easily surpass the career-high 58-point campaign he posted in 2017-18.

Per ESPN.com, Miller is projected to score 30 goals and 76 points this season. If he sustains this pace, he’ll have reached the 30-goal and 70-point marks for the first time in his career. Even Benning and head coach Travis Green probably didn’t expect this much production from Miller.

Is regression inevitable for Miller? Very possibly so. His carries a remarkable 14.7 shooting percentage, though it’s only one percent higher than his career shooting percentage of 13.7.

Miller, however, is also receiving much more ice time compared to last season with the star-studded Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s averaging 20:09 time on ice thus far in 2019-20 — much higher than the 14:40 in Tampa Bay last season.

There’s an argument to be made that Miller isn’t necessarily on the right end of puck luck. Maybe he just needed the first line opportunities — especially with an elite centre like Elias Pettersson — to maximize his potential.

Miller didn’t get to play with anybody of Pettersson’s caliber when he was with the New York Rangers, after all.

Miller was a very good and serviceable player on a Tampa Bay team that had three 90-point players — including 128-point man Nikita Kucherov —  and 11 guys who registered double-digit goals.

But Miller has received much bigger opportunities here in Vancouver, and he’s making the absolute most of it. For as good as he’s been throughout his career, it’s safe to say that very few expected Miller to be this dominant with the Canucks.

But hey, Miller, Benning, Green and the entire organization won’t be complaining what they’ve received so far. Miller has been instrumental in keeping Vancouver in the playoff race through the first three months of the season, and he’ll continue to play an integral role for the long run.