CanucksArmy Prospect Profile: #2 Jake Virtanen

virtanen

When Jim Benning walked up to the podium and selected Jake Virtanen as his first ever drafted prospect as GM of the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, many members of the fanbase were concerned, and understandably so. After all, Virtanen was ranked by many in the 8-10 range heading in, and a big part of him being ranked even that high was being “physically ready” for the NHL. Yet, here they were taking him with the sixth pick.

Fast forward a year and change. Thanks to the faster growth of other prospects, even those taken after him, confidence in him is at an all-time low. But, that doesn’t mean that Virtanen is a lost cause. Far from it, actually; he’s still a very, very good prospect and amongst the best in Vancouver’s system.

First, let’s talk a bit about why he was selected to begin with. Virtanen brought three things to the table that impressed scouts and fans alike – size, speed, and scoring touch. Teams love right wingers with an explosive stride, the ability to stop and turn on a dime, and a heavy shot. They love them even more when they’re 6’1, 205 at the age of seventeen.

A formidable adversary for any challenger, Jake Virtanen is an imposing power forward in the truest sense. Possesses a non-stopping motor and creates an abundance of on-ice energy when throwing his weight around and establishing his physical presence. Exhibits world-class skating ability, and can blow by defenders just as easily as he can go through them. Stands up for his teammates and never backs down to a challenge. Displays a wicked, NHL-level release that challenges goaltenders of all skill levels. Becoming a recognizable asset when playing a more defensive role as well. All-in-all, a physical power forward that has the character traits, work ethic, and individual skills to pose a threat to whoever stands in his way. -Curtis Joe, EliteProspects.com

He had the stats to match it too. His rookie year with the Calgary Hitmen was solid for a sixteen-year-old; 16 goals and 18 assists in 62 games is nothing to scoff at, with everything considered. But the draft year? He scored an insane 45 goals in 71 games, putting him sixth in goals despite being the only draft-eligible player in the top ten. He also put up 100 penalty minutes, asserting himself as a power forward to anyone who would notice.

But then, this happened.

virtanen (1)

What caused his stock to fall? Well, on paper, he didn’t develop much. Virtanen kept his point per game pace, scoring 52 points in 50 games, but didn’t improve like most Draft+1 players do. There are many reasons that this might be the case, but it’s most likely connected to regaining 100% comfort after his shoulder injury that he suffered at the tail end of the prior season. A known issue when he was drafted, Virtanen underwent surgery to repair the damage and started the season late. With that said, his production remained consistent throughout the year, so the jury is out as to whether it made a difference.

Beyond the Calgary Hitmen, Virtanen made a couple of other special appearances on other stages. Over the holidays, he joined Team Canada at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championships, and picked up a goal and three assists in seven games. 

Virtanen also made a ten-game cameo with the Utica Comets during their run to the Calder Cup Finals, though he only picked up an assist. In any event, it was useful time spent for a player hoping to make the jump to the professional game in the near future, as he told the Vancouver Province in July:

“It’s great experience for me at the pro level,” he said. “The intensity and obviously playoffs is even more so. The leaders on the team, (veteran centre) Cal O’Reilly and the coaches, just said play my game and go out and hit guys. Carter Bancks got hurt and I just tried to fill that role.”

It’s hard to say where Virtanen ends up. The dream, of course, is that all of his physical tools align to make him into the type of big, quick, rushing power forward that you see in the above clip. If all goes to plan, this may just be a first line winger that the Canucks have waiting in the cards.

Understandably, there’s some skepticism. But this is a situation where you can’t just point at other players and yell at the prospect for not being them. Virtanen, for better or worse, can only be himself. It’s up to the Canucks to turn him into the best version of himself possible – whether that involves him making the jump to the NHL now or taking one more crack at dominating the WHL as a 19-year-old remains to be seen. But if it all works out, watch out.

#8 – Alexandre Grenier

#7 – Cole Cassels

#6 – Frank Corrado

#5 – Hunter Shinkaruk

#4 – Brock Boeser

#3 – Jared McCann

  • RageQuit91

    What I like about Virtanen is that he is a guy you can win with. He’s got the speed,power,shot, and drive to help you win in important games. The worst I see virtanen turning out is being a Torres, the best I see him becoming is an Iginla. Seeing him go to vancouver at 6 wasn’t all that disappointing really. Ehlers and Nylander are the boom or bust kind of variety. Are those the guys you want in your top 6 in the stanley cup final or is Virtanen? I would rather wait and see if we can get better top 6 forwards later on for the next decade. What I don’t like about his status is the how is goal output dropped so much which is really concerning. It was also funny watching him have to write down his questions on paper in the canucks summit meeting. Reminded me of torres for sure. Definitely an intriguing prospect though.

  • Andy

    I can’t say I agree with the assertion that he has a ‘non-stopping motor’. That is a descriptor I would use to describe players like Burrows in his prime, or a guy like Gallagher – they are guys whose non-stop energy forces the other team to make mistakes. Watching the WJC and parts of the AHL playoffs, I saw in Virtanen a guy who floats around a fair bit when he doesn’t have the puck, and is often a bit confused about where he should be on the ice. Only when the puck ends up on his stick, or on that of a teammate, does he turn on the jets. His highlight reel looks good, even just from the WJC, but I wasn’t that impressed with his play overall.

    My concern with him is that it often seems like he is waiting for the play to come to him. He isn’t afraid to make that big hit or get a little creative on offense, but he needs to take the game over more often.

    In my opinion, he should stay in Junior for another year, and really work on driving the play – not just on offense, but on defense as well. If he can figure that stuff out, there is no reason he can’t be a game breaker. But he’s not there yet.

      • Double Dees

        That challenge was just too good to ignore. I think most of us agree Nylander and Ehlers are both more skilled than Jake. Personally I`m fine with this and understand why Benning HAD to make this pick. Vancouver plays in a heavy, physical conference and if we ever seriously want to get out of the first round, we need large, physical guys that can play. Tough, physical playoffs will be where Jake excels. Jake, Nick and Mike are different players who went to teams with different needs.

        • Mantastic

          i hope you understand that Jake has been a no show in the playoffs in both the WHL and the AHL. I don’t get the false narrative that he’s a great playoff player or perfect one right now.

          • Double Dees

            ? He speaks of false narratives while spewing one of the biggest false narratives of all time. “Playoff performer!”

            Either you’re a meta comic or an idiot.

          • pheenster

            Jake’s playoff performance with Calgary in the 14-15 season was not too bad. Thirteen points in fourteen games. I’m not putting much stock in his AHL playoffs as he was a stone cold 19 year old rookie. Perhaps it would have been better if I said his speed and power game translates better to playoff hockey.

          • Braindead Benning

            He is physically ready to be in the NHL but like most power forwards his development will probably take a few seasons, he will most likely get around 10+ goals if he sticks with the club and if lucky 20 points.

  • RageQuit91

    POWER FORWARD! Big Jake will be a fan favorite for years to come. Hope he can make the jump at training camp and make the big team. This is going to be great.

    2016-17 Revised

    Sedin – Sedin – Burrows

    Lucic – Horvat – Virtanen

    Baertschi – Sutter – Grenier

    Kenins – Cassels – Hansen

    Gaunce – McCann – Dorsett

    You like that better?

  • Spiel

    I didn’t realize we acquired the BEST prospect in our system at the deadline with our 2nd round pick. Better than the kid we drafted 6th overall. Steal of the century?????

    (I’m being facetious. I like Baertschi but camaaaaan.)

      • El Kabong

        Obviously these ranking are bases upon what Benning values in a prospect.

        That said to no one’s surprise Mackenzie Stewart is the Vancouver Canucks #1 prospect.

      • Andy

        And yet, all Fox could do last year was play in the ECHL, couldn’t even make the Comets. And oh, yeah, who was he playing with when he got the 107 points? Ummm, c’mon, it’s right on the tip of my tongue.

        Kinda reminds me of the Canucks trading for the 46 goal scorer BJ McDonald…who was he scoring those goals with? Ummm, yeah he was a bust for the Canucks

      • Double Dees

        I would hope that a 25 year old goalie with questionable NHL performance to-date isn’t our best and brightest prospect. I was surprised that Virtanen wasn’t ranked #1 but I can sort of understand if the list has Baertschi at the top. I honestly don’t know what to say if it is Markstrom …

  • Double Dees

    This just in…

    Jake V BARELY scored a point a game in JUNIOR. He never dominates the game like a Draisaitl or a Bennet did. Sad….

    He also barley scored 20 goals or whatever and everyone sayin he’s got this “powerful” shot and going to the net bs and blah blah blah.

    I swear this article is a repost.

    Jake V will not score more than 15 goals a season. He will be the biggest bust.

    So uh… How’s Cory Schneider doing?

    Hahahahahahaha.

    And the oilers actually offered MORE for shneids but gillis screwed the Canucks over. Just like benning did with lack.

    Ho hum!

    • Mantastic

      fail troll, we traded schnieds for horvat. do some research if you want to hurt peoples feelings. for instance when the canucks finish ahead of the oilers again this season. it will be a decade sense youve put up a better team than van.

    • pheenster

      Generally speaking you’re too far off the douchnozzle scale to deserve any of my attention, but when you do attempt to imply actual facts in your drivel, I feel compelled to correct them.

      We got Horvat with the pick we got for Schneider, not Virtanen.

      You may now return to your usual spouting of inanities.

    • Braindead Benning

      Yet another boring and very predictable post by the one and only hockey genius “Pee Wee”. We all know that EVERY & ALL canucks prospects are going to be busts its been mentioned by yourself countless times and i would like to thank you for your insight however, I am just curious as to where you find your “in depth” player analysis, the development graphs and scouting reports? can you please provide that information for people like myself who have absolutely no idea about hockey and the draft and development aspect you know so much about? because last i checked basically most teams have the same success rate give or take a few a select organizations.

      Please bless us with your wisdom

  • Double Dees

    Assuming that Virtanen can stay out of the penalty box, people will see his value when he gets into the playoffs. I can’t understand why penalty minutes are a measure of toughness. Penalties that put your team on the PK are a good thing? Throwing clean highlight reel hits and shrugging off on-coming hits on a regular basis – that’s real toughness in my books.

  • Double Dees

    Like many, I was a tad disappointed when Jake was selected by the Canucks, as I felt there was clearly a better, foundational player available who would have set the franchise up for years to come.

    But the missed opportunity to pick up Nick Ritchie is water under the bridge now.

    When you look at the player we have – you gotta love the tools Virtanen brings. Elite speed. Elite shot. Physical.

    He’s an entertaining package. I look forward to his development.

  • Double Dees

    this just in…

    I am a flaming tool.

    I have nothing better to do than come here and rant and insult you guys. hahahaha I am a tool.

    really though I am the one formerly known as NM00 hahahahaha had you all fooled didn’t I??

    yes yes yes I am tool.

    hahaha i am the greatest fool of them all.

    oh crap i got to go my moms wants me to brush my teeth.

    • I mean, it is. Those who were skeptical of the pick are more skeptical than ever due to his down year. I’m okay with both opinions, but objectively, the average feeling towards him is lower than it was when he was drafted.

      • pheenster

        Objectively based on what? Chit chat in the Nation Network lunch room? Your feeling based on Twitter? What Oilers fans think?

        Subjectively, you may be right. But objectively implies some kind of measure.

  • So seriously, who is Jake supposed to replace if he made the team? Vrbata? Burrows? Hansen? Force these guys with NTCs to a trade and get stuck with another crap return because they only want to get traded to Anaheim?
    Also, Bo was able to exploit Linden Vey suckiness to force a roster spot…Jake won’t have that luxury in his position