Geek of the Week: It’s Miller Time in Vancouver

by Mike Zacour on June 30, 2019


Last week the Vancouver Canucks Aquilini’d… sorry, acquired… J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for goalie Marek Mazanec, along with a 2019 third-round pick, and a conditional first-round pick in 2020. 

If the Canucks miss the playoffs in 2020, the first-round pick will be pushed to 2021.  So at least the first-round pick is top 16 protected for next season’s deep draft.

On the surface it seems like an overpayment, but for all we know there were multiple teams interested in Miller. 

And why wouldn’t there be?  Miller is a player that can slot into all three forward positions and he can play in the top six or move down the lineup as a depth forward.  Versatile is the word that comes to mind with Mr. Miller.

The overlooked value in the real world that comes with Miller is his contract.  The Canucks get him for four years at an extremely palatable $5.25 millon-per-year cap hit.  Currently this makes Miller the third highest paid forward on the Canucks roster, behind Loui Eriksson and Bo Horvat.

With July 1 looming, overinflated contracts will continue to make Miller’s contract look like a bargain.  Two or three years from now, it will probably look like a steal. 

The good news for Canucks fans is that you get a 26-year old player coming off a relatively down year through the rest of his prime at a very reasonable price.  The bad news is a rebuilding team just lost a valuable first-round pick.

It’s a bit of a dice roll for Jim Benning and probably an attempt to make the playoffs next season and save his job.  He may not be done with this trade.

Miller was a great buy low target for any team as Tampa Bay was stuck between a rock and a hard Point with their cap situation.  It’s just that the Canucks didn’t really buy low, they bought medium to expensive. 

There is no doubt that the acquisition makes the Canucks better right now but is it enough for them to make the playoffs in 2020?  We’ll find out in about nine months.

For now we are more interested in the fantasy impact Miller will have in the Pacific Northwest going into next seasons draft.

With a standard Yahoo Head-to-Head Points scoring format (private leagues only) we can see where Miller ranked this season using the Fantasy Hockey Geek tool:
 

Rank

Player

GP

G

A

+/-

SOG

PPP

BKS

Fantasy

Points

288

Oskar Lindblom

81

17

16

-9

162

3

52

348

289

J.T. Miller

75

13

34

8

108

20

23

375

290

Chris Tanev

55

2

10

3

51

0

122

223


Miller didn’t exactly live up to expectations this past year and found himself ranked near the bottom of the top 300 players in formats such as these.  Disappointing considering his average Yahoo draft position was 179.

A lot of poolies had big expectations from Miller coming into last season hoping he would play with Nikita Kucherov and perhaps earn a spot on the top power-play unit.

As it turned out he did play with Kucherov for the most part to start the season but as time wore on, he found himself mostly on the wing beside Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli.  Miller slowly lost power-play deployment time and found himself in more of a depth role than a primary scoring role. 

As an aside, and word of caution, regarding Tampa Bay going into next season: Don’t overdraft their support or depth players. The likes of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat all risk being overdrafted because of the team they play on. Their deployment will make or break them, so just be careful.

Where does Miller fit with the Canucks? It is likely Miller will slot in on the wing somewhere in the top six with Elias Pettersson and Horvat already slated as the top two centers.

It gives the Canucks a lot of options and some much-needed depth if they encounter an injury down the middle at some point.

The obvious best-case scenario is that Miller finds a home on the top line with Pettersson and Brock Boeser.  But Horvat isn’t a terrible consolation prize so long as he gets power-play time.

He should get more than a sniff on the top power-play unit. If he produces he’ll likely stay there as the Canucks are nowhere near as deep up front as the Lightning.

Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat are locks on the top unit.  Alexander Edler probably starts there as well but could be usurped by the young Quinn Hughes at some point during the season, although not overly likely given the season Edler just put up. 

We shouldn’t be too concerned about the Josh Leivo’s and Nikolay Goldobin’s of the world, but there is a small chance the Canucks decide to run two defencemen on the top unit while easing Hughes in. 

If we take a look at the names on that top unit there is a very high chance that one or more of them will succumb to an injury at some point during the season.  This of course would open up an opportunity and Miller would probably be the first man to get the bump. 

Worst-case scenario he’ll be on the second unit. When it comes to fantasy drafting it wouldn’t be wrong to lean towards the optimistic side of things and plan for top power-play deployment to start next season.  The first power play unit opportunity should be there for him, but it will be up to Miller to seize the day and hold it.

When we look at Miller’s ice time from last year there is a lot to like.  He averaged 14:40 per game in Tampa Bay, which was a four-year low. The Canucks didn’t give up a first-round draft pick to have him play less than 15 minutes a night.

Prior to last season Miller had shown an increase in ice-time annually and was up to 17:01 in 2017-18.  We should see him much closer to 17 minutes a game than 15 with the Canucks.  We could easily see a career high there if he ends up finding some chemistry with Pettersson.

Miller is going to throw over a hit a game and add a block every third or fourth game.  He is an able-bodied face-off man having taken almost 1700 draws and winning 50.6% of them over the past three seasons.

Miller converted 12% of his shots last year, which was actually on the low end for him.  The previous three seasons he converted over 16%.

The problem with Miller is that he doesn’t shoot enough.  His career high over the course of a season is 143 shots and last year he only took 108. 

He will likely be lining up beside one of Boeser or Horvat, who both like to shoot the puck.  Miller is a pass-first kind of guy and this is something that generally doesn’t bode well for players fantasy wise. We always want to see shots trending upwards and we have not seen that from Miller.

For a player that converts at such a high rate, it would be nice if he stopped giving his coaches and fantasy owners headaches and just shot the puck more.  Don’t expect more than 150 shots until he proves otherwise.

If he can take between 130 and 150 shots and convert at 15%, it will net him 19-23 goals.  Given he was able to muster 34 assists last season with limited ice-time, we can reasonably put the floor at 30 apples and with some increased ice-time and deployment the upside could be in the neighborhood of 40.

Depending on deployment, Miller could finally hit the 60-point mark that has eluded him to date.  We should expect somewhere between 49 and 63 points from him as a Canuck next season.  Drafting him as 55-point player with limited peripherals should be a pretty safe call.