42
Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: A Lot of Jake Virtanen Questions

If Pettersson were to keep up his current pace of 1.05 points per game over the remaining 56 games of the season, he’d finish somewhere in the neighbourhood of 80 points. Only 20 players were able score at or above Pettersson’s rate last season, and 6 of them played less than 70 games; so it seems unlikely to me that he’ll keep it up. Having said that, even if he regresses to somewhere around a half-a-point-per-game over the rest of the year, (which seems equally unlikely), he’d still have a decent shot at hitting 50. My best guess is he probably finishes the season somewhere between 60-70 points. That gives him room to regress while still assuming that he’s going to factor in on the offense on most nights.

At the moment, Jake Virtanen is on pace for 25 goals and 12 assists. So I don’t think it’s a knock on him to say the production we’ve seen from him over his first quarter of the season is pretty close to his ceiling. He’s big, fast, and he’s got a shot, so it’s not hard to envision a couple of 20-goal seasons if he can start going to the net consistently. He’s never been a playmaker, even at the junior level, so I don’t think it’s out of line to say that part of his game probably isn’t going to develop much more than it already has.

I think I’ve maintained pretty consistently that Virtanen’s ceiling is probably a 40-or-so-point-player. I’m really happy for him that he looks closer to his ceiling than his floor right now, but that hasn’t really changed.

Roussel’s been perfectly fine so far. That’s really not all that surprising, to be honest. He’s been a useful player who can keep his head above water in a bottom-six role and plays a style that NHL general managers often covet. The only issue with the player is his contract. The dollar figure would be easy to swallow in a vacuum, but the term could be an issue. The Canucks should expect to be competitive in years three and four of his deal, and if all goes well a lot of their cap space is going to be taken up by some of their best players’ second contracts. At that point, having $3 million tied up in a 30+ year-old bottom six winger might be less than ideal. Will it kill them? Probably not, but when you look around at all the similar or worse contracts that have been handed out to other players it’s not hard to envision it causing some issues down the road.

The obvious answer is Loui Eriksson, but that contract is so onerous it’s hard to see a team out there biting unless the Canucks retain salary. There are a couple deals I could see materializing, but I’ll save them for another day. Stay tuned.

People are going to hate me for saying this, but the only other candidate who really meets this description and could still fetch a decent return is Jake Virtanen. The national media has been very vocal about teams looking for a Tom Wilson-type player of late, and Virtanen looks like he could maybe be that player some time down the road. It’s not a perfect example, but Arizona was able to turn a pair of former first-rounders with virtually no NHL pedigree into Nick Schmaltz, who’s already established as an everyday NHLer and has a 21-goal season to his credit. That doesn’t mean the Canucks should be actively shopping him, but I think you have to listen to offers judging by what the market has bared.

It all depends on the situation. Virtanen might have more value on the open market than he does on the Canucks, and Goldobin probably brings more value to the Canucks than he would on the open market. So, if I’m just picking which player to add as a throw-in for a big player, I’ll probably give up Goldobin and keep the more valuable trade asset in Virtanen. If I’m actively shopping players and looking for the best return, then I’ll probably give up Virtanen.

Mark Stone is the kind of player you can generally get away with signing to a big contract in free agency, but I’d steer clear. The Canucks just can’t afford to add any more vets long-term until they know what Boeser and Pettersson’s next contracts are going to look like.

I think part of it is emotional attachment. Edler never really got the love he deserved in this city, but he’s now the only tangible piece left from the best Canucks team ever assembled and I think some people just aren’t ready to completely move on from that era. The left side has also been a bit of wasteland behind him until Ben Hutton started to put things together this year. With Del Zotto on the last year of his deal and many ready to move on from Derrick Pouliot, I can kind of understand the thought process. It’s expected that Hughes will be on the team next year, but Olli Juolevi is still a wild card and it seems like some fans are waiting with bated breath to throw Ben Hutton back under the bus at the first sign of struggle. Personally, I have no issue with the team running Hutton, Hughes, and Juolevi on their left side next year, but I can see why some might be more conservative. If you don’t think Juolevi is ready, and believe Hughes needs to be brought along slowly, then Edler makes more sense than going after someone in free agency or re-upping Michael Del Zotto or Derrick Pouliot, especially if it’s a short-term deal.

The real priority on defense this year needs to be figuring out what exactly Olli Juolevi is. If he’s not ready, the team is going to have to start looking elsewhere, and if they want stability I can see the case for Edler. It’s not something I’d pursue, but it’s not completely outlandish either.

I’m in favour of moving Jake to his off-wing, but not enough to bounce Goldobin off that line after all the chemistry he and Pettersson have displayed. Until it definitively stops working, the open spot on that line should be the other winger. With Boeser out of the lineup, I think there’s a strong case to be made that Jake deserves to be that winger, but once he’s back I think it’s his spot to lose. On paper, the line just makes sense. Goldobin’s proven to be an adept playmaker thus far, so putting him with two players who can rip the puck is putting all three guys in a position to succeed.

I’m going to keep hammering this point home until we get to see it: If you want to see Jake Virtanen in an offensive role, put him with Bo Horvat. They both love to rush the puck, but Virtanen gives that line a legitimate shooting threat, and Horvat’s willingness to get to the dirty areas mitigates the downsides of Virtanen’s propensity to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Baertschi-Horvat-Virtanen line, and I think they’re all finally at the point their careers where it could work. (Once Baertschi is healthy, of course.)

This is a tough one, mainly because I’m not 100% sure how I feel about Derrick Pouliot right now, let alone what he might be in the future. The numbers don’t really point a clear picture one way or the other. He’s winning the shot-share battle at even-strength and has a positive goal-differential, too. Then again, the team has also conceded better chances than they’ve created with him on the ice, and he’s been the recipient of favourable deployment over his Canucks career.

I guess my best guess is… maybe never? Pouliot will be 25 in six weeks. There’s a good chance he just is what he is.

Just over a year ago, when they signed Thomas Vanek. Trading him didn’t work out quite the way some had hoped, but he was a home run at that price. That’s really not that long ago. The Canucks have definitely missed on deals in the past but they’ve had a few hits as well

I don’t know if it’s accurate to say they haven’t been given a fair shot. Virtanen has been Pettersson’s third most common linemate after Nikolay Goldobin (who’s spent virtually all his even-strength time with Pettersson and play the opposite wing) and Loui Eriksson. Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to break it down shift-by-shift, but judging by how much time Eriksson got with Petersson before his injury, my guess would be Virtanen and Eriksson have been getting comparable minutes with Pettersson over the past few weeks.

At this point, I’d probably prefer to see Virtanen stick there over Eriksson, too; but I wouldn’t be surprised if Travis Green just hasn’t been particularly satisfied with either player on that line. I can see the case for rotating them both in and out if that’s the case. They’re very different players that each give the line different looks.

  • rediiis

    With Boeser coming back, I’d really like the occasional shift of Gaudette with some talent. He gets sucked into that 4th line crap with whoever he is playing with. Give him a bone occasionally. As this year and season start going quickly by, it will be interesting so see who gets the late call ups. Dahlen is a lock, but what about Lockwood and Hughes at Michigan? Demko if he is managed correctly. Looks like some players should start cancelling their comcast.

    • bobdaley44

      Gaudette isn’t good enough to play up the lineup. No vision, puck handling is average as is his skating. Needs to work on all of these in the AHL. Once they get healthy he’s in Utica.

      • The Real Deal

        I don’t know where you are getting your information from, Gaud has great +/- and is still improving. He is above a few veterans that shouldn’t be on this team, as a rookie. Give him some time and positioning to succeed and he will. In every league or place he’s played he’s always rose to the occasion. Yes, he’s a little slower, but every game he seems to be getting a little better. It usually takes a year of seasoning/learning the NHL before they become good players. Wait til next year and make a decision once he has seasoned a little.

        • steviewire

          +/- is a flawed stat and shouldn’t be used to judge players. It has more to do with minutes, usage and quality of competition than anything else. For example, Pouliot has a far better +/- than Hutton. Would you say Pouliot is a better defenceman?
          That being said, I think Gaudette is doing well and will be the canucks third line center in a couple years. Perhaps earlier if Sutter is traded

  • rediiis

    I can understand your disenchantment with Gaudette in his small sample size in a role he is not used to. 4th line centers are usually old as dirt (insert beagle jokes).

  • wojohowitz

    I think Virtanen even surprises himself sometimes with what he is capable of. There is a lot of upside to come in the next two or three years. Even a repeat of his junior year; 45+25=70 when he does reach his full potential.

    It`s not a coincidence that they break the losing streak on Edler`s return. He`s an important cog in the machine and all the defencemen play better with him in the line up.

    Gaudette could be similar to Gaunce in that he could start producing at a rate of a point a game in Utica whereas now he reacts a half second too slow to put up points. He could also become the number one center in Utica and be the go to guy in every situation. He`s probably destined for at least 20 games down there when Beagle and Sutter get back and it would be good for him.

      • Jackson McDonald

        Tom Sestito’s potential is 42+22=64

        Have teams figured out you can just google a player’s hockeydb page and find out what their potential is? This is genius

        • wojohowitz

          I`m saying there`s an eye test and Jake passes my eye test as having huge upside. Did you think Benning drafted Jake based on his last junior season or on his personal version of the eye test. Do you have a personal opinion on any subject or is it all based on the party line so you don`t look foolish for being wrong. Stick your neck out once in a while with a personal opinion and and stop worrying about what your co-workers think, or look at it this way; Drance with strong opinions or Burke who reeks of mediocrity.

  • Kanuckhotep

    For a 149th over all pick Gaudette isn’t doing that bad. He’s getting the best apprenticeship possible in the toughest league in the world and Green seems to trust him. No doubt they’ll send him back to Utica when Sutter and Beagle return which would also help his development and won’t have to clear waivers. Of course #88 isn’t quite there yet but considering everything he’ll be a fixture on the Canucks at some point IMHO.

  • jaybird43

    I think Guadette is doing fine. He looks like about a #3 centre; we all got seduced by the Hobey Baker creds. On the other hand, at one point Horvat himself looked like a #3 centre. And he turned himself into a borderline #1 centre … so, who knows with Gaudette. It’s still a bit early folks …

    • Cageyvet

      I always expected him to be a number 3 center, a good two-way player who has some, not spectacular, offence. That would be a huge win for a fifth round pick, and if he develops enough flash to move into the top 6 when injuries hit, that’s just the cherry on top. If not, he still looks like a player, and they’re not easy to come by, great drafting with this kid.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Trading Vanek worked out fine for the Canucks. Motte has been great this year, clearly a step above Archibald, Leipsic, Gaunce, and Schaller as a 4th line option and penalty killer. Relentless on the forecheck, and even a couple of very timely goals, like the empty netter the other night that sealed the win. He’s still only 23, doesn’t cost a ton of money, and I see him as a Kris Draper type of player going forward.

  • Fred-65

    Gaudette in terms of hockey age is still young. I had my doubts ( and still do to a degree) about Virtanen. He’s now played in his 4th season as a Pro, Gaudette on the other hand has played 20 games total, not a lot in any ones eyes. Gaudette in my mind is playing if uneventful solid hockey. The rest of his season, which is inevitable, will be in Utica and stands a good chance to become NHL player though it’s doubtful he’ll lead the scoring title

    • Giant-Nation

      Great point, IMO i see Goldy disappearing in the heavy game the playoffs always bring. Some players go to the next level in post season, Horvat’s game looks to be bread for those war like playoff games, Kessler game heavy, strong skater, Selke Trophy winner/assh@le is a great example of what post season success vs reg means. Linden had another gear post season, I love the guys but Sedins didn’t have next gear, post season at one point Danny had gone 23-24 PS games in a row with no goals….they contributed post season! Not just second gear. Jake is built for the heavy game, you need guys like this post season. I see great things from him if Canucks hit post season in year or two.

  • Fred

    Virtanen’s true value will be when this team becomes a playoff contender, which will likely coincide with his development peak. Playoff teams covet a player like him – big, fast, strong on the forecheck, hits like a ton of bricks, and provides some offence.

    • Kootenaydude

      I think that’s why the Canucks didn’t draft Turtlechuk. I think they figured they had already drafted a big body that plays with an edge. The next piece to the rebuild was a defenceman in Juolevi.