(This is the 16th in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster. Up next: Mathieu Joseph)
TAMPA — Like sprinkles on top of an ice cream sundae, the Lightning acquired J.T. Miller as an added treat in the trade for defenseman Ryan McDonagh in 2018.
Tampa Bay made acquiring a veteran defenseman a necessity in 2017-18, so it dealt Vladislav Namestnikov for McDonagh, but not even McDonagh or Miller initially knew that Miller also would be included. The addition of a physical forward came as a bonus last season and this season.
Miller brought a level of experience the team needed on the ice and in the locker room. His presence helped Tampa Bay record one of the best regular seasons in NHL history.
The 26-year-old forward doesn’t rank as one of the Lightning’s top stars, but he played a huge role. Miller could play on any line and brought a heavier style of play to a team in need of grit.
In 75 games, he netted 13 goals and logged 34 assists for a combined 47 points, tying fellow forward Tyler Johnson for the sixth-highest total on the Lightning’s roster this season. Miller also notched a career-high of 20 power play points this year.
Not too shabby for his first full season with the team, right?
Others might disagree.
Miller’s current contract calls for him to be paid $5.25 million in 2019-20, which just so happens to be around the same price as Johnson, Yanni Gourde, and Ondřej Palát. He won’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2023-24.
But is that the best place for Miller to be, smack dab in the middle of all of this talent on a Lightning roster that may not be super noticeable in every game, but goes toward the success of every season?
The impending signing of center Brayden Point may impact Miller’s status as executives try to find room in this year’s salary cap.
His talents, however, outside of his basic skills, lie in the fact he’s an asset to any line. It doesn’t take much for him to take on a leading role with any group. That alone certainly gives executives something to think about.
In the most basic terms, he’s the utility player the Lightning needs, the forward coaches and teammates know can play anywhere on the ice. His versatility can’t be overlooked when it gets down to the decision-making. Miller’s ability to complement, like those sprinkles, could prompt management to serve him up for another season.
High: Miller’s goal and two assists in the Lightning’s 8-2 home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Miller capped off the night with the last goal in the game on a Tampa Bay power play, slapping the puck into the back of the net on a tight rebound with 0.2 seconds left on the clock.
Low: Miller went on two separate stints toward the middle and end of the season where he went five and six games, respectively, without logging a single point.
By the numbers:
47 points, the second-highest total of his career (best of 56 in 2016-17)
20 power play points, a career-high for the forward who beat his record of 12 in 2017-18
34 assists, matching a previous career-high from 2016-17
4 game-winning goals, tying Johnson and Hedman for the fifth-highest mark on the roster
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.