From the time he was drafted as a project piece to the birth of #ShotgunJake, Jake Virtanen has been scrutinized for what type of player he is, who he isn’t, and who he should be. He turns 23 in August and will be entering his fifth season in the NHL; pretty impressive for a player who has had to earn his ice time until the beginning of this past season.
I have been in the group that has come up with reasons that Virtanen should be traded and that his current value would net a decent return (no pun intended). He’s played four seasons with the Canucks and hasn’t exactly broken through as an impact player but it looks like he’s being groomed to become an energy player the Canucks can rely on.
Virtanen’s last two seasons are almost identical: 10 goals in 17/18 and 15 scored in 18/19 combined with a slight increase of only five points in five fewer games played. Jake’s also been patrolling the second power-play unit which was as bad as Vancouver’s top group, but coach Travis Green has entrusted him with more.
Is trading Virtanen a good idea though?
His analytics aren’t very becoming and he isn’t going to turn into the next Todd Bertuzzi. Instead of trading away Virtanen, Jim Benning and Travis Green should be looking to feature him like Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson/Brock Boeser.
There isn’t a Canucks-focused website or podcast that hasn’t stated that this offseason will be one of the biggest in the team’s history which is why in this case, creating a line for Virtanen to be the star instead of just finishing off the third group is a stealthy move that could pay off.
Jake Virtanen has been dropped on the Horvat line in multiple iterations, most recently with Brendan Leipsic which was short lived. He had his highest CF% line rating of 58.82 on that line, just ahead of his success with the Sedins (57.03) and a bump up from the combination of Nic Dowd and Reid Boucher (54.13).
With no more Leipsic, Dowd, or Sedins, going back to the well with Reid Boucher might just be a move that makes sense next season. Boucher just finished up a career-year in Utica eclipsing his previous career-high of 46 points with the now glowing 62. He scored 31 goals and his speed combined with Virtanen’s rush abilities could create a third line that delivers. Of course, Adam Gaudette would have to center these two and the departure of Brandon Sutter would have to occur.
Packaging Virtanen and Boucher together as a unit also gets Boucher out of a struggling Utica system and in a position to not only further the career of the minor-leaguer but sling-shot Virtanen into the spotlight.
While Jake isn’t exactly “star” material, the emergence of Quinn Hughes on the backend to create rush attempts together could bump JV’s stock to the point he might even have a positive WAR value (it’s possible). Virtanen has, for the most part, been a complimentary piece but I’m arguing that he’s still young enough that putting the focus on Jake to be the finisher not only boosts his own value but it allows the top two lines to flourish.
Jake finished the season as the sixth-best player on the Canucks in 5v5 primary points with 17 and his P1/60 is right up there as well at 1.16. He’s almost in the spot to be a regular contributor for Vancouver and he’ll need some extra love to get there.
Benning will try and shore up scoring for Pettersson and hopefully, things are figured out on Bo Horvat’s line (maybe Jordan Eberle?) but it’s Jake Virtanen that might be the surprising story of the 2019/2020 season for the Vancouver Canucks