J.T. Miller has a reputation in the NHL. He's a blue-collar player with a physical edge. He's a versatile forward able to play in a variety of roles. But when the Tampa Bay Lightning traded him to the Vancouver Canucks last summer, he earned another label: someone worth spending a first-round draft pick to acquire.
Teams don't just throw those picks around in trades anymore. When they are dealt, it's rarely for forwards who have never hit 25 goals or 60 points in a season, as Miller hasn't.
Fans questioned the investment. Miller took notice of the price tag, too.
"I realized they gave up a lot for me, and I should feel good about that," he told ESPN recently. "I was given a great opportunity here, and I wanted to make the most of it. I probably had my best summer in the gym. I worked my ass off this summer. I wanted to put my best foot forward. And I definitely haven't always done that before. It gets back to what they gave up for me: I had a point to prove. It motivated me. And it's paying off."
That it is. Miller was given an opportunity to be a top-line forward for the Canucks, and he's done anything but squander the chance. The player who hasn't scored 25 goals in a season has 22 of them. The player who hasn't hit 60 points in a season has 56 of them in just 57 games. His average ice time (19:51) is over five minutes higher than what he averaged in Tampa last season (14:40).
"You always hope a player comes as advertised," Canucks coach Travis Green said. "He has. He's probably exceeded some of those expectations."
Top-line success in Vancouver wasn't predestined for Miller. He was a solid performer -- from 2015 to 2018, he averaged 22 goals and 52 points -- when the Lightning acquired him in the trade that also netted them defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers. They gave him a prolonged audition on their top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, but after he had eight points in 17 games for the Lightning in that postseason, the team decided to change his role.