Since the cap-strapped Vancouver Canucks aren’t yet a Stanley Cup contender, Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin and the new management group need to make some tough decisions.
One of them is deciding what to do with their leading scorer, J.T. Miller.
If the Canucks are looking at trading Miller, there would be no shortage of teams interested.
What makes Miller unique is that he didn’t truly break out until he was 26 years old. That’s why Miller’s list of comparables over the past 20 years is relatively short.
Previous research shows that many players hit their peak by 24 years old. On many occasions, talented forwards begin scoring at a first-line rate before then.
My criteria here for finding comparable players was:
- They needed to enjoy a career year between the ages of 25 and 27.
- They needed to have at least a three-year stretch during their career where they averaged at least 0.8 points-per-game (to showcase that they weren’t just a one-year wonder, which Miller is clearly not)
Because the lack of comparables is fairly short, the players listed might not compare stylistically to Miller. Then again, how many forwards are gritty, can score, set up teammates, play both centre and wing, play both the power play and penalty kill.
In more ways than one, the Ohio native truly is a special player.
The purpose of this article is to look at the career trajectory of Miller’s comparables after the age of 28. This is to help give context into what kind of production the Canucks leading scorer might continue to provide for the rest of his career.
Here are some statistics to keep in mind for Miller as we look through his comparables.
- Miller’s age 26-28 Stats: 162 GP, 54 G, 104 A, 158 PTS (0.97 points-per-game).
Worst-Case Scenarios for Miller
1. Matt Moulson
Age 26-28 Stats: 246 GP, 97 G, 73 A, 170 PTS (0.69 PPG)
Matt Moulson’s fortunes changed drastically after signing with the New York Islanders as an RFA, where John Tavares helped him blossom as a perennial 30-goal scorer.
Moulson had a career-best 0.93 PPG as a 29-year-old, but his career trajectory went downhill following a trade to the Buffalo Sabres.
He signed a five-year, $25 million contract with Buffalo in the 2014 offseason. Moulson was productive for one more season but by age 32, he was no more than a depth contributor.
2. Kristian Huselius
Age 26-28 Stats: 162 GP, 59 G, 84 A, 143 PTS (0.88 PPG)
Much like Miller, a trade that changed the trajectory of Kristian Huselius’s career.
The Swedish winger never surpassed 45 points in a season with the Florida Panthers, but he turned into nearly a point-per-game producer during three seasons with the Calgary Flames.
Huselius signed a four-year, $19 million deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008. He averaged 0.8 PPG during his first two years in Ohio, but his production declined at age 32. Injuries forced him to retire at the age of 33.
3. J.P. Dumont
Age 26-28 Stats: 136 GP, 41 G, 65 A, 106 PTS (0.77 PPG)
J.P. Dumont posted a career-best 0.8 points-per-game with Buffalo as a 27-year-old.
That led to a two-year deal with the Nashville Predators. Dumont continued his success, posting 0.85 PPG through the duration of the contract.
After turning 30, Dumont signed a four-year extension. He continued to produce for one more season before declining sharply in years two and three of the deal. The last year of his contract was bought out after the 2010-11 season.
4. Erik Cole
Age 26-28 Stats: 130 GP, 59 G, 61 A, 120 PTS (0.91 PPG)
Erik Cole nearly doubled his point-per-game output at age 27, a year where he helped the Carolina Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup.
Cole was inconsistent in the years that followed, but he ended up signing a four-year deal worth $4.5 million per season as a 32-year-old with the Montreal Canadiens.
He was dynamite for the Canadiens in year one, registering a career-high 35 goals. His production dropped off steeply after that, and Cole was traded to the Dallas Stars the next season.
Cole settled in as a middle-six contributor for the Stars before retiring at the age of 36.
Cautionary tales if Canucks want to trade Miller
5. Mikko Koivu
Age 26-28 Stats: 206 GP, 51 G, 126 A, 177 PTS (0.86 PPG)
Mikko Koivu’s breakout season came at the age of 25, when he posted 67 points in 79 games. He continued that success through his age 26 to 28 seasons, where he averaged 0.86 PPG.
Although he wasn't as offensively dominant in the years that followed, Koivu scored at a 58-point pace over the following five seasons, before beginning to decline at the age of 34.
Of course, Koivu was one of the best shutdown centremen in the NHL, which makes peak Koivu comparable to Miller from a value standpoint.
6. Mike Ribeiro
- Age 26-28 Stats: 239 GP, 67 G, 153 A, 220 PTS (0.92 PPG)
Despite posting some solid point totals in his younger years, Mike Ribeiro’s true offensive breakout didn’t come until he posted 83 points in 76 games at age 27.
While those 83 points ended up being a career-high, Ribeiro was productive from the ages of 29 to 35, where he averaged 63 points over 82 games.
His production didn’t drop off until the age of 36, which was his last NHL season.
7. Brenden Morrow
- Age 26-28 Stats: 121 GP, 39 G, 57 A, 96 PTS (0.78 PPG)
Miller’s early career production is eerily similar to Brenden Morrow’s. From the ages of 21-25, Morrow posted 0.55 PPG, while Miller posted 0.59.
Morrow’s PPG increased to 0.89 at the ages of 29 and 30, before a knee injury derailed his season. After that, his production dropped to 0.64 PPG at the ages of 31 and 32.
By 33, he was largely a middle-six matchup forward.
8. Patrick Sharp
- Age 26-28 Stats: 223 GP, 87 G, 85 A, 172 PTS (0.77 PPG)
Sharp busted out offensively at the age of 26, when he scored 36 goals and posted 62 points in 80 games.
Sharp’s offensive peak actually came from the ages of 29 to 32, where he averaged 0.92 PPG. His big decline didn’t happen until he was 35, when his PPG dropped to 0.38 during his second season with the Dallas Stars.
Best-case comparables for Miller
9. Marc Savard
- Age 26-28 Stats: 127 GP, 47 G, 102 A, 149 PTS (1.17 PPG)
In five seasons prior to his 2019-20 breakout, Miller posted 0.67 PPG.
Marc Savard averaged 0.7 PPG over the same time span.
By age 26, Savard posted 52 points in 45 games for the Atlanta Thrashers, a breakout that eerily mirrors Miller’s 72 points in 69 for the Canucks at the age of 26.
When Savard emerged from the lockout at the age of 28, he registered a career-high 97 points in 82 games.
The talented centre averaged 1.1 PPG from ages 29 through 31, before injuries took their toll at age 32.
Unfortunately, Savard suffered a broken foot and an MCL tear before a vicious hit from Matt Cooke essentially ended his career.
10. Martin St. Louis
- Age 26-28 Stats: 217 GP, 87 G, 112 A, 199 PTS (0.91 PPG)
Martin St. Louis didn’t have his breakout season until age 27 when he posted 33 goals and 70 points in 82 games.
The Hall of Famer went from top-six mainstay to Hart Trophy champion by the age of 28.
After the lockout robbed him of his age 29 season, St. Louis averaged 1.06 PPG over eight seasons from the age of 30 to 37.
He was clearly one of the greatest forwards of his generation. While stylistically he’s different from Miller, it’s interesting that both enjoyed breakout seasons around the same age.
11. Blake Wheeler
- Age 26-28 Stats: 209 GP, 73 G, 98 A, 171 PTS (0.81 PPG)
Of all the players on this list, fellow American Blake Wheeler might just be Miller’s best comparable.
Blake Wheeler’s breakout season came at the age of 25, when he posted 64 points in 80 games during his first full year with the Winnipeg Jets.
Prior to that, much like Miller, Wheeler was a solid middle-six contributor before a trade helped ignite his NHL career.
Since his age 28 season, Wheeler has been one of the most productive players in the NHL.
He’s averaged 0.98 points per game over the last seven seasons, with his peak coming at the ages of 31 and 32 when he registered back-to-back 91-point campaigns.
What does this tell us about Miller’s trajectory?
The story of Wheeler is certainly a cautionary tale if the Canucks were looking at dealing Miller.
In fact, the majority of these examples are cautionary tales.
There are compelling reasons as to why the Canucks should consider trading Miller. To steal a cliche, he could fetch a king’s ransom, and dealing him could help shore up the Canucks issues on defence, along with snagging a high draft pick that could help this club for years to come.
However, the argument that he won’t be in his prime when the Canucks have a chance to compete for the Cup should be met with some skepticism.
Most of Miller’s strongest comparables went on to have really productive careers into their mid-30s. A significant injury might be the only thing to knock Miller off of that trajectory.
Sure, he’ll deservedly command a huge contract, but a deal that takes him to the age of 35 shouldn’t scare the Canucks. Since his 2019-20 breakout, Miller’s 0.98 PPG ranks 28th among all NHLers. Almost every player above him is a legitimate NHL star.
If the Canucks are going to trade Miller, it’s a deal that they cannot afford to lose.
No pressure, new guy.