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J.T. Miller returns to Tampa as an offensive force with the Vancouver Canucks

The former Lightning player is shooting more and having the best start of his career.
Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller (9), on right, celebrates with his team after they score the first goal of the game during first period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

TAMPA — J.T. Miller’s old Lightning teammates would always joke with him that he had the best shot on the team, but didn’t get to showcase it because he didn’t shoot enough.

Now in a different uniform, Miller is showing what he can do when he takes his shot.

Miller, who was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in June to free up cap space, has emerged as an offensive force with his new team. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Lightning at Amalie Arena, Miller’s 15 goals just 42 games into the season have already surpassed last season’s total of 13, and his 40 points are well on pace to pass his previous career high of 56 three seasons ago with the Rangers.

Related: Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh out against Canucks, return unclear

Playing on the Canucks’ first line alongside two of the league’s top young stars — 21-year-old Elias Pettersson, last year’s rookie of the year, and 22-year-old Brock Boeser — the 26-year-old Miller is the unquestioned veteran of Vancouver’s top line.

“I’ve been given a great opportunity,” Miller said. “Obviously, I’ve got some good chemistry with Petey and Boes. I’m trying to build on that. They’re younger in the league, so I’m trying to work with them on that. Obviously, they have a lot of skill, which makes my job easy. We’re clicking and winning as a team, so that really helps, and honestly, that’s all that matters. Personal success usually comes when your team is winning.”

And now Miller has the opportunity to take the shots that he didn’t have playing with the Lightning. He is averaging 2.5 shots a game, up from 1.44 last season. With 105 shots this season, he will soon surpass last year’s total of 108. And he’s averaging more that five minutes of ice time over last season (20:05 to 14:40).

“For a long time he has had the package, right?" said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “He’s big, strong, a good skater, great shot. He’s shooting the puck a lot more this year. ... It’s not a surprise to the guys who have played with him. ... He works hard, he plays hard. I think he’s kind of pulling some of those younger guys along with him. You’re kind of seeing what he can do. Obviously, he’s earned that big role that he’s playing for that team. it wasn’t just given to him.”

Canucks coach Travis Green said Miller showed his dedication by arriving in training camp the lightest he’s ever been. Green took notice of Miller’s speed early on.

“I’ll give him credit,” Green said. “He put in a lot of work in the offseason. We found that his speed has also been a benefit to our group. He looks fast this year. He’s a power forward whose not afraid to get his nose dirty and he can make a play as well.”

“The reason he’s not with us anymore is the business side of the game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But he was a big part of our organization for the couple years he was here, and when we made that run to the conference finals a couple years ago, he had a lot to do with it. So I’m happy for him with the success he’s having over there.”

Related: Lightning rinks going in Pasco parks in Holiday and Wesley Chapel

Miller knew what it was like to be traded. The Lightning acquired him from the Rangers at the trade deadline during the 2017-18 season, and he said he prepared himself for the potential of being traded entering the offseason. The Lightning owed Miller $22 million over the next four years and were able to get a third-round pick and a 2020 conditional first-rounder for him.

“I think I had something to prove," Miller said. "I’ve come in and made a bad first impression before and I didn’t want that to happen again. So I looked forward to the opportunity, got over the trade and moved on. I knew I was going to get a good opportunity here, so I wanted to make sure I put my best foot forward.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard

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