As Canucks continue to improve, Miller returns to being point-per-game player

Seven different skaters scored a goal and 12 players recorded at least one point for the Vancouver Canucks as they spread out their offence, crushing the San Jose Sharks, 7-2.

VANCOUVER — It’s not easy to go from zero to hero. Sometimes it can take a whole week.

Largely vilified in the first half of the season when both he and the Vancouver Canucks were disappointing, J.T. Miller is back driving the National Hockey League team to wins, scoring goals, leading from the front, and playing a robust two-way game while pulling heavy matchups.

And while Miller’s $56-million, seven-year contract extension that kicks in July 1 will continue to be debated, there have been no questions lately about the quality of the player to whom it is owed.

Miller launched the Canucks’ 7-2 win Thursday against the San Jose Sharks with his league-leading fifth shorthanded goal at 6:15 of the first period and later added an assist while logging at least 20 minutes of ice time (20:06) for the ninth time in 10 games.

Lamenting only a month ago that he might never score again, Miller has nine goals in the last 10 games, eight of them victories.

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Miller told reporters post-game. “Sometimes you feel like you’re shooting into a five-gallon bucket and sometimes you just feel like. . . you’re just kind of hitting your mark. And when you’re shooting like that with confidence, it makes me want to shoot it more. It’s nice to see them go (in) because there are stretches of the season where it seems like you can do everything but score.”

What had been criticized as Miller’s “bad season” suddenly has him up to 29 goals and 71 points in 70 games. It also has him playing a powerful two-way game at centre — a return to his favourite position that was forced by the Canucks’ Jan. 31 trade of Bo Horvat.

Rick Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach nine days earlier and immediately began to build structure and place defensive demands on a team that ranked 31st in the NHL in team defence. Under Tocchet, not only has Miller been responsible defensively, but the 29-year-old has amassed 30 points in 24 games.

“I’ve been a point-per-game player since I’ve been here, and if you get six or seven or eight games (behind that pace), there’s no panic,” Miller said. “I’ve been playing well for a while now and I always say the points will come and I think now is a prime example.”

Was the arrival of Tocchet a turning point?

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“It might have been more of a focal point for you guys, but I didn’t really change my game a whole lot,” Miller insisted. “We didn’t really change our D-zone system, we just made a couple of tweaks.

“I didn’t think I had a bad start in my own end. All my bonehead mistakes, they weren’t really defensive coverage. They were mistakes (with the puck) and body language. Those were my mistakes.

“I take a lot of pride in my own end. I spend more time talking to the D-men about how to break the damn puck out as a three-man unit than I do talking to the forwards about making plays. But I do think the (defensive) focal point now is a little more zoomed in since Rick’s been here. But as a team, we’ve looked a lot better so we’re not spending as much time in the D-zone, which is nice. And I will say this: When the team plays better, we all look better.”


For some West Coast viewers on Sportsnet, the third period of Thursday’s broadcast would have been a blur after it began with beloved television analyst John Garrett announcing that this is his final season calling Canuck games alongside his friend and play-by-play partner John Shorthouse.

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Shorthouse and Garrett — John and John, as they are known — are unique. Outstanding professionals and close friends, their conversational style and banter, their ability to laugh at themselves while informing and entertaining their audience have carried broadcasts through the Canucks’ many challenging seasons. The Sportsnet crew always ranks near the top of The Athletic’s annual viewers’ poll for NHL broadcast teams.

“If you’ve been watching and listening for all these years, you know how much I have enjoyed my experience and the time doing this job,” Garrett, 71, said, speaking directly to viewers as the third period was about to start. “I’d like to thank John Shorthouse, (host) Dan Murphy and our producer, Greg Shannon. Your camaraderie and friendship will never be forgotten, and we will be lifelong friends. But most of all, I’d like to thank the fans whose unwavering support has lasted for these 20 years and beyond. Your enthusiasm and passion for the game, and for this team, will never be forgotten. We are all Canucks. Thanks.”


Three weeks after Filip Hronek’s trade to the Canucks, which followed by one day a shoulder injury suffered with the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 28, the defenceman finally made his Vancouver debut. Tocchet didn’t exactly ease Hronek in, as the 25-year-old led the Canucks with 24:25 of ice time after Vancouver blue-liner Christian Wolanin was injured in the first period.

“I felt good; I was surprised,” Hronek said. “We were down to five D so I didn’t have time to think about it too much.”

Hronek didn’t register a point or shot on net, but he had three hits, played in all situations and was plus-two.

“He’s a good player,” Miller said. “I always thought he was a good player. He’s always hard to play against. You know, I think maybe he doesn’t get enough credit for being a gritty player. He’s more physical than people think. He’s a little cheap; he’s a little old school, which is nice.”


Wolanin’s undisclosed injury, which came the day his two-year contract extension was announced by the Canucks, increased the number of injured defencemen to six. Wolanin, Noah Juulsen and Guillaume Brisebois have all been hurt this week. 

Tocchet said after the game that he doesn’t expect Juulsen to play again this season, joining Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tucker Poolman and Travis Dermott out indefinitely.

Without any healthy extras, the Canucks are expected to recall from the American League another defenceman — or more, pending the status of Wolanin and Brisebois — for a three-game road trip that starts with back-to-back contests this weekend in Dallas and Chicago.


The Canucks had seven different goal-scorers and they included bottom-six forwards Sheldon Dries, Phil DiGiuseppe, Dakota Joshua and Vasily Podkolzin. . . Defenceman Kyle Burroughs was plus-four and registered eight hits.

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