29

Why The Focus Should Be On Jake Virtanen

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

 

  • wojohowitz

    Trading Virtanen now would be a `buy hi…sell low` scenario and not wise. Reminds me of Sam Bennett criticism in Calgary; high pick, not much production, third line guy with upside, might have a solid career but might not. At the moment Virtanen looks like a Raffi Torres clone.

  • Barry Badrinath

    Virtanen’s biggest issue is his (cliche) hockey IQ, which I think will always limit his offensive potential. When I say hockey IQ I’m referring to his vision, poise, and playmaking abilities, which are all below average. On the plus side, he has a decent shot and isn’t afraid to take it to the net, which has resulted in a number of his goals (even when he’s fanned on the shot).

    Despite his offensive shortcomings I still think he is a very useful player. His speed, size and physicality is a rare combination particularly of use during the playoffs when the refs put the whistles away and momentum is key. His high takeaway rate is also a good indication of his forechecking prowess.

    Questions will always be asked of his draft position (maybe with good reason) but IMO he is a big part of this team moving forward. I wouldn’t dish him unless the return is higher than I believe it would be.

    • kablebike

      I have never really understood hockey IQ? Is there only one IQ? For forward and defence? Does it change for both depending upon the position? Is hockey IQ getting to open spaces and waiting for a pass when your teammates cannot generate it? Is it the ability to backcheck hard periodically as a forward and float more often thereby generating more offensive chances over the season to capitalize on a goal and risk against one? Is it the ability skate with the puck and hold onto it in traffic? Is it the ability to have the puck and hold onto it thereby generating a second or third option rather than the first or obvious? Is it playing a style of hockey not inherent to the natural abilities of a player (ie., a bruiser playing skill perimeter hockey or a skill perimeter player playing bruising hockey? Is it the ability to take the puck to the neck and take hard hits against the odds of unlikely success? Is is riding out a forward gently or making a poke check instead of going for a crushing hit with or without backup? Is it dumping the puck in hard around the net hoping a forward on the off side will fore check hard instead of dumping it in softly just before the goal line? Is it all of these things and more? Seems pretty ephemeral sometimes. Me? I equate JV to a young kid that hasn’t woken up on the right side of the bed yet and realized that he has elite speed with more than average defender size in a cream puff penalty calling league with a very heavy shot that can make 40% of defenders look bad going around the outside generating a higher than average shot percentage from less than 15 feet away from the net. Reminds me of a Bulltuzzi before he woke up on the right side of the bed but with a better shot and speed and smaller size. Time will tell.

  • truthseeker

    No point in trading him in my opinion. Much like Oli J as well. (obviously if someone over pays then yes). At this point JV is much like a mirror of the team itself. Improving, but very slowly. Just be patient with him. I’m still deciding on Green as a coach. There are things I like and things I don’t, but Jake is one of the things he seems to have done OK with. I say OK because I do think he could reward Jake more. It’s time to give him much more rope. If I’m not mistaken, his ice time was just over 12 minutes a game. Bump him up to 15 minutes a game and with consistent line mates and I see no reason why his scoring wouldn’t continue to rise. I think he’s easily capable of providing 20+ goals in that situation.

  • Kootenaydude

    I love the guys speed, grit and energy. I hate that he just skates around not putting himself Or a teammate into a scoring position. Lacking in hockey IQ, but he has the tools and IS getting better.

    • Holmes

      The Bennett comp is good but Sammy fights like Adam Deadmarsh used to – reckless and scary. Jake will fight but he’s not really a good NHL-level fighter. If we’re talking comps, the closet player I can think of is Nino Niederreiter. High draft pick, large fella who hits like a truck, can score but doesn’t have a great toolbox. If that is Jake’s ceiling, I’m ok with that.

  • Braindead Benning

    Dal Colle, Bennett, Virtanen… All 3rd liners in the end…2014 Not a great year for the top 10, but i’m sure they will finish around the same AVG PPG played at both the NHL/AHL level…i cant blame Jimbo on this LOL

  • Doodly Doot

    Jake is a foot soldier. He’s fast, has a wicked shot and is progressing in his NHL apprenticeship from a regular utility guy to a ‘high’ utility guy. Playing him with Bo is a great idea. He’s exactly the kind of center Jake should play with. The payoff for drafting him will come down the road, when, through experience and continued development, he becomes the game-changer everyone has been patiently waiting for. In the mean time, he’ll throw the occasional thunderous hit and explode down the right side, too fast for his own good, causing trouble for the opposition and scoring enough to keep the critics yammering and the fans engaged.

  • Kanuckhotep

    When you look at how well secondary scoring guys like Hertl, Donskoi and LeBanc have played for the Sharks in the playoffs I envision Jake having to be that kind of player to support guys like Bo, Brock, Petey and QH going forward for the Canucks to ever go anywhere. the Sam Bennett comparison is most apt and someone else once said on here Shotgun has to make up his mind as to whether he’ll be a finesse player or a Bertuzzi- esque power forward. He could make all the difference in the world when teams key on our big guns and he scores clutch goals at the right time when needed. Don’t give up on # 18 certainly but next year is the year for Jake to arrive IMO. Could make all the difference.

  • Dirty30

    So a second line of Pearson, Horvat and Shotgun would be decent for size, speed and skill. It might help Jake to move his hockey IQ forward playing regular minutes with these two.

    Third line of Baertschi, Gaudette and Leivo would have some good scoring opportunities with speed and skill.

    Fourth line of Eriksson, Beagle/Sutter, Granlund/Motte.

    That leaves trying Goldy on the top line with Brock and Elias or JB finds a top line winger somewhere.

    Schaller and Spooner are either going to wow at camp or be traded for whatever can be had.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    “He scored 31 goals and his speed combined with Virtanen’s rush abilities could create a third line that delivers.” Have you ever actually watched Boucher play? His lack of foot speed is exactly the reason he’s never made it in the NHL.

  • Fred-65

    This is pistols at 10 paces article. There will be those that advocate patience and those that are fans of reality. The two will never coincide. The good news is if JV remains he’ll be a cheap roster player, the bad news is he has to have an if found please return to address because truly this guy is not dialed. If it’s possible to get a decent return I think I’d take it, but at this point, I doubt you’d get much more than a second round pick which frankly would not look good on JB resume. The concept that 2014 was not a good draft year is rubbish. At the # 6 spot left numerous far better choices many of who were talked about ad nausea by fans on this site pre-draft! Players like Nylander, Elhers, Larkin and Pastarnak to name but a few of many. I believe JV has had as many chnaces as many with varying line mates from the Sedins to EP and BH and none have resulted in a vast improvement. At some point we just have to admit hes a third line player who was vaunted as far better. Some bought the BS and some saw through it. That doesn’t just apply to JV but after every draft, all GM’s hit the radio waves to tell us how lucky we were to get this player or that player and we had him rated higher etc etc. This team wuld look a lot better with any of the fore mentioned picks that were available to JB and frankly wasting the skills of EP or BH on Jake is a waste. So for me if you get a decent offer take it or let’s all settle on the fact he’s a cheap third line player and don’t over emphasise his value to the team.

  • MM

    Wasn’t Jake’s offense hampered by being Sutter’s line mate most of the season? I think getting him off Sutter’s wing is another example of addition by subtraction…

  • TheRealPB

    I don’t really get the Boucher thing — there are many better options to maximize Virtanen’s potential. I always thought the Canucks never carried through with what was the most promising experiment his first year (maybe it was in the preseason), with Bo and Baertschi. I think they’d make a killer second line as they are all good two-way players. I don’t understand all the criticism of his having a lack of hockey IQ or vision — he’s made plenty of plays as he’s matured that would suggest otherwise, drawing the d to him with his speed and then slowing down to pass it across the ice to a trailer. I didn’t see him do that the first couple of seasons but he did it increasingly well this season.

    Also, it’s ironic to say that he won’t turn into the next Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi, after a fast start his rookie season with the NYI, had a big setback (including time in the AHL) his second season, and got traded his third, with 10 and 13 goals those two years then just 8 in an injury-shortened fourth season. So at age 23 it was hardly like Bertuzzi looked like HE would become Bertuzzi. Maybe we should be a bit more patient with guys like Virtanen before declaring we know what they will be like. Bertuzzi’s prime years were age 24-28 and would likely have been a couple more if he hadn’t lost his mind in the Moore incident.

    • I don’t get the Bertuzzi comparable. Virtanen is trending more like Ferland – 15-20 goals and 40 pts per season, 150+ hits per season, complimentary player. Bertuzzi was nearly a 0.90 PPG player, we’ll never see Virtanen score like that. Virtanen definitely out-hits Bertuzzi, Virtanen’s hits per game is 2.2 while Bertuzzi was about 1.5 in Vancouver.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Jake is exactly the type of player who you need for the playoffs. Straight ahead speed and power to take the heavier going. To trade him before we see him in playoff action would be a huge mistake