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JT Miller bringing emotional leadership to a quiet Canucks team

Coach says forward’s play infectious with his driving, straight-ahead style
Vancouver Canucks’ J.T. Miller (9) scores against San Jose Sharks goalie MacKenzie Blackwood (29) as San Jose’s Kyle Burroughs (4) checks Vancouver’s Anthony Beauvillier (72) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Monday, November 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

J.T. Miller shrugged when asked about why he slid to block a shot near the end of the Vancouver Canucks’ 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks last Monday.

“It shouldn’t matter. It’s like a mindset thing for the team,” he said after the victory.

“You have to want to get in the way of the puck. I had missed one on the penalty kill earlier … if I had blocked that one it probably doesn’t end up in the back of the net. There’s a very fine line there about being in the shot lanes.”

With San Jose on the man advantage in the third period, Miller dropped to a knee in an attempt to block a Calen Addison shot. The puck found its way by him, deflected off a Vancouver player and fell to Tomas Hertl to knock home.

Miller pointed out other examples of teammates blocking shots late in the game and said it shows the buy-in from players on what the coaching staff has asked of them.

“I think it’s a part of our team’s identity,” he said.

Entering play Friday, Miller has 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 20 games. He’s just behind teammate Quinn Hughes, who leads the NHL with 31 points this season.

Miller, 30, and the second line he leads have earned praise from the team’s coaching staff for their playing style and impact.

“(Miller) drives the play. When we’re playing a little bit slow or we’re not on our game, he demands the puck by going to areas,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet. “A lot of our players understand, you have to drive to whatever area to demand the puck.

“He drives the play with his attitude and his north style. It’s infectious.”

Tocchet has cited that willingness for players to put their body on the line as part of the “Bible” his team follows, which includes clean line changes.

He has also worked to hold his centre accountable, benching Miller for four minutes after taking his third penalty in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 31.

“He’s an emotional leader for this team and we’re a quiet team,” Tocchet said at the time. “We give him crap sometimes because he’s got to draw the emotion for a lot of guys. Sometimes, he’ll go over an edge and he got back. I have no problems with his emotions.”

Miller’s primary linemates this season have also been contributing. Brock Boeser has six power-play goals and 13 goals overall while Phil Di Guiseppe has eight points and a plus-5 rating.

Miller signed a US$56-million, seven-year contract last season after a 99-point campaign (32-67) in 2021-22.

Part of the bump in offensive output this season has developed with a change in how the Canucks operate in front of their opponent’s net. Miller’s goal last Monday came from a rebound off a shot by Boeser through traffic in the third period.

“The (defence) is doing a good job of finding that stick, they’re not just shooting the puck for the sake of it,” Tocchet said. “Now they’re looking for that play. Those are great plays.”

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