The underlying numbers driving J.T. Miller's dominant season

J.T. Miller leads Canucks skaters with 95 points as the team stares down the playoffs. Why has he been so good this season, and what do his numbers mean?

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights
Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights / Candice Ward/GettyImages

J.T. Miller's 99th point of the 2021-22 season came on a habitual snap shot that found the back of the net as naturally as each of his 32 goals had that season. Still, in the first period of the Vancouver Canucks' final game, he had over 40 minutes to find point number 100.

He played over 24 minutes that night. He finished the season with 99.

That bittersweet ending to the season — Vancouver's best player falling just short of the century mark despite establishing himself as an offensive force in the NHL and the team being vaulted from underachievers to just missing the playoffs — left fans feeling hopeful entering 2022-23.

Miller, the Canucks' top scorer by 30 points, had become one of the league's best skaters and shooters. Maybe he'd build on that. Maybe his polarizing seven-year, $8 million contract extension would become a bargain.

Neither of these occurred in 2022-23. Miller took a step back offensively, finishing with 82 points. The team failed to take off early in the season and missed the playoffs by a sizeable margin.

But this season, Miller's first under his new contract, he's been back at the top of his game statistically. He's scoring at over a point-per-game pace again, with 95 points in 75 games. He, once again, has a chance to reach 100.

What are the driving forces behind the rise of J.T. Miller, and how has he become an even better version of his 2021-22 self?

Canucks Skating

Miller's skating speed has improved over the past three seasons. Since NHL EDGE, the league's advanced statistics website, started tracking players' metrics in 2021-22, Miller's short speed bursts have increased.

He had 153 speed bursts over 20 miles per hour in 2021-22, well over the league average of 69 and good enough to rank him in the 87th percentile. Of those, 10 bursts were over 22 mph, landing him in the 90th percentile of the league.

In 2022-23, Miller exceeded 20 mph 161 times, a slight improvement that raised him to the 89th percentile. But his 22 mph-plus bursts were down — he recorded six and fell to the 83rd percentile.

This season, Miller has already exceeded his speed burst totals from the past two years. In 75 games played, he's recorded 210 bursts over 20 mph, which puts him in the 96th percentile. His 21 bursts over 22 mph have him in the 97th percentile — the league average is three — and he's in the 96th percentile in 20-22 mph bursts, with 189 on the year.

Canucks Shooting

Miller's career-high 35 goals this season can be attributed to his absurdly-high 20.2 percent shooting percentage. The average shooting percentage in the NHL is 10.1 percent, meaning that Miller places in the 98th percentile.

He's most dangerous from mid-range — the region of the offensive zone from just below the face-off circles to the high slot. Here, Miller's shooting percentage has jumped up to 28.3 percent this season, which is in the 98th percentile with the league average being just 8.9 percent. Fifteen of his 35 goals this year have come from this area.

In 2022-23, Miller had a down year by his standards as his mid-range shooting percentage fell to 13.4 percent, which was in the 71st percentile. He scored only 13 goals from this part of the ice, down from 17 in 2021-22 — a season in which his mid-range shooting percentage was 20 percent, and his overall shooting percentage was 15.5 percent.

Miller has found a nice groove for himself in the mid-range area of the offensive zone and consistently converts on chances here. He's especially effective on the power play — he has 10 goals with the man advantage this season and he has seven games left to break his personal best of 11, which he set in 2022-23.

Canucks Zone Time

The Canucks' power play has been excellent this season, and when Miller is on the ice, their puck control is among the league's best. From 2021-22 to the current season, the Canucks have ranked in the 90th percentile or above in offensive zone power play time, and lowest defensive zone power play time with Miller on.

The team had the puck in the offensive zone 61.7 per cent of the time on the power play in 2021-22 when Miller was on the ice. That number grew to 64.1 percent last year and sits at 65.5 percent at the time of writing this season — in the 96th percentile. The league average offensive power play zone time this season is 48.9 percent.

Miller has also helped Vancouver's power play stay out of its own end. When he's on the ice with the man advantage, the puck has been in the Canucks' end just 21.5 per cent of the time, which is in the 95th percentile — well below the league average of 29.2 percent.

Miller, of course, hasn’t been the only driving force behind the Canucks' power play. Anchored by Quinn Hughes at the point, and with Elias Pettersson on the right side, the Canucks' power play percentage is 22.5 percent this year, 11th in the league. While this metric ranks them among the league average, there's little doubt that Miller has made a difference with his team-leading 37 power play points.

Playoff hockey is a different beast compared to the regular season. The stakes are higher, the games are more physical, and unlikely heroes shine.

Miller, being the energetic, physical and passionate player he is, will have his work cut out for him. His ability to replicate, and exceed, his regular season numbers will undoubtedly be the difference maker for his team.