“I am who I am”: J.T. Miller reflects on emotional journey in Canucks leadership role

J.T. Miller has been on the Vancouver Canucks for five seasons, but in some ways, it feels much longer.

The forward has had his fair share of ups and downs in the local market and could once have been described as a highly polarizing figure. That all changed this past season.

Miller put up a career-best 37 goals and 103 points while maturing into the emotional leader of a Canucks team that far overachieved expectations. He converted even the strongest of doubters in the fanbase along the way.

While some onlookers may describe the past 12 months as a maturation for the American-born forward, he’s not so quick to characterize it that way.

“I really do believe it’s a fine line,” explained Miller at the team’s year-end exit interviews. “You know, when you’re winning, my emotion is accepted, and when you’re losing, it is certainly not. That’s why I downplay it.”

“I am who I am and I just think what comes to mind is the staff here has helped me embrace who I am instead of run from it. It’s good that I kinda wear my heart on my sleeve and am a little louder but help me channel it and it’s like not like ‘hey, don’t be this guy.’”

“I don’t look into it that much. I’m just trying to do my job and if I do my job it gives our team a better chance of winning and if everyone does that, I just think it makes everybody look better.”

The new coaching staff, which arrived last January, helped Miller and a large number of other players get the most out of their performances.

The centre not only set new personal records offensively but also became the outspoken leader for a group that needed one.

Next season will be the second year of Miller’s massive contract extension. He’ll face a new challenge in taking this team from qualifying for the playoffs to contending for the Stanley Cup.

“At the end of the day we have a really good hockey team and we have a lot of good qualities and these opportunities just don’t come around very often,” he said. “I’ve learned that over the years in my career. I was spoiled with playoff hockey as a kid then all of a sudden you go five years without it and then I’m 31 years old.”

“When you look at it like that, things happen quickly. That is going to be a challenge, not taking it for granted and raising the bar again because we can feel good about what we did this year, but at the end of the day, we still lost like you said.”

“For me, it makes me want to work even harder knowing that we were a goal or two away from final four, so it’s going to be a good test for us.”

The Canucks roster will likely look very different next season. One thing that won’t change is the massive burden placed upon Miller’s shoulders. He’ll once again be expected to be a top-tier shutdown centre, an offensive engine, and the power play leader all at the same time.

It’s a big ask, but he proved he’s up for it this season. The Canucks will need a repeat performance from Miller if they hope to take another step forward.