PITTSBURGH – As in so many Vancouver Canucks‘ games this season, J.T. Miller seemed to be involved in everything during his team’s 2-1 loss in Philadelphia.
The difference on Monday was that “everything” included some bad stuff, too.
Miller was too exhausted to check on the Flyers’ winning goal, had an unlucky bounce off his stick on Philadelphia’s tying goal and also smartly scored for Vancouver. As a winger, he led all Canucks with 23:44 of ice time.
The 26-year-old seems to be at epicentre of the team. Bo Horvat is the captain and workhorse, Elias Pettersson the best player and Quinn Hughes the most exciting story. But Miller seems omnipresent, always involved, always felt.
As Miller came home to Western Pennsylvania to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, the Canucks seem to belong at the present as much to him as any player.
Which is pretty impressive for a guy whose inconsistency exasperated his former New York Ranger coach, Alain Vigneault, who now runs the Flyers.
“I think now he gets it,” Vigneault said Monday when asked about Miller’s growth. “You ask him. Just tell him that ‘AV said you get it now.’ He’ll have a little smirk for you and say: ‘Yeah, I understand now.’”
“I was a young kid that didn’t have my crap together when I was 20,” Miller told reporters. “He helped me with that. It might have been harder on me, but it makes you have thick skin. I play like that now and I’m off the ice like that now, and he’s a big part of that.
“Having (John) Tortorella and him to start my career, there’s two good coaches who expect a lot of you as a player, on and off the ice, and want you to play hard. When I pride myself on how I play now, those are some of the attributes I like to bring.”
Miller has played so hard so consistently for the Canucks since his trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning that his inability to check Justin Braun on the Flyers’ winning goal was blindingly obvious.
Naturally, Miller owned his mistake post-game.
Without a letter on his new Vancouver jersey, he is leading by example in the dressing room as well as on the ice. He constantly preaches accountability.
“I knew he was a good player. . . but this is a kind of a breakout first part of the season for him,” Horvat said. “His play leads by example. He works hard every shift, brings it every game. You can always count on him. In the room he keeps guys focussed and ready to go, but he also keeps it light. He jokes around. You need that. It can’t be all serious all the time.”
When a reporter told Miller he appears to have his crap together now, he joked that he was still fooling the right people.
Then he said: “I’m trying to realize what I am good at, what makes me a good player and try not to stray too far from that. I think so far, on a consistent (basis), not even production or anything, just playing my game and being good and accountable all over the ice, I think it’s been a good start.
“At the same time, I’ve been given a great opportunity by the coaches here, and the management. I’m playing with really good hockey players, and we’re having a lot of success as a team. Put all those things together (and) it’s easy to make somebody look good. I’m fortunate to be in the spot I’m in.”
So, how did he ‘get it?’
“I really do think it comes with time,” he said. “I see young guys now; it’s the same thing. If things aren’t going well, (they) try to make that extra play or do that extra thing. The hardest thing to do is stick with it when it’s not going well. It sounds a little cliché, but the hardest thing is to do it the hard way when you want it to be easy. That’s something you just learn. We have a lot of guys on this team that buy into doing it the hard way.”
Through 25 games, Miller has 24 points. His 10 goals co-lead the team with Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
The Canucks are in an even-strength scoring crisis. They’re 2-2 so far on their difficult six-game road trip, but have generated only one goal – Miller’s on Monday – without their power play. But Miller has done more than his share of scoring.
He scored only 13 times (with 34 assists) all last season for the Lightning, which eased salary-cap pressure in June by trading the former first-round draft pick to the Canucks for first- and third-round picks.
Miller knows there is a future in Vancouver.
“There’s been a lot of talk about his addition this year, and rightfully so,” coach Travis Green said. “He’s played really well for us. He’s a vocal guy, he cares, he wants to win, he competes hard. He’s aggressive. As coaches, you like to have aggressive players because they usually want to win really bad. We talk about the will to win a lot. When you have those characteristics, it can be infectious and rub off on other players as well.”
• Winger Nikolay Goldobin, recalled Tuesday from the Utica Comets after amassing 20 points in 18 games in the American League, did not arrive in Pittsburgh in time to practise with the Canucks but could be in their lineup against the Penguins.
• Brandon Sutter (groin) practised but isn’t yet ready to play. Micheal Ferland (concussion) skated on his own before practice.