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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Mailbag Part 2: Tyler Toffoli, the USNTDP, and Trading Jake Virtanen

I would think so, and it’s not a bad idea. Toffoli and Pearson were part of a high-end second line for the Kings for a couple of years. The biggest question, obviously, is the price. Toffoli had a down year, which means his value is likely at an all-time low, but I’m unsure how willing the Kings would be to part with him considering he’s still just 27 and has traditionally been a useful contributor for them. If they can get him for a middle-of-the-lineup player like Ben Hutton I would consider it, but I’m not sure there’s a fit there.

Defensemen are notoriously difficult to evaluate, but they’ve got a long way to go before they’ll match goalies. My colleagues at NextGen Hockey have done a great job developing pGPS, which I think goes a long way towards helping scouts predict the kind of contributor a player is going to be at the pro level, but there is no such system for helping us predict the future of a goaltending prospect. It still comes down mostly to traditional scouting, and a lot of organizations really struggle to identify what they should be looking for in a young goaltender. I remember Catherine Silverman told a story once about how she spoke to a scout who said he thought the most important statistic to look at when evaluating goaltenders was wins.

You might say we still have quite a long way to go.

Again, I’m just not sure the Canucks have the pieces. They can’t give up any of the core four, and the rest of the team just isn’t going to be that attractive to the rest of the league. A lot of the shine has come off of their prospect pool after a disastrous season in Utica, and fans don’t really seem keen on trading Troy Stecher or Jake Virtanen, so there really just isn’t a lot to work with.

It sounds like the Canucks are in on basically everyone. That includes Erik Karlsson and especially Artemi Panarin, who I think they might actually have a legitimate shot at signing. Otherwise, there’s the second tier of guys like Tyler Myers, who already seems like a shoo-in to be in the Canucks lineup next year, and mid-tier forwards like Micheal Ferland, who seems like someone the Canucks could have interest in. Overall, I’d expect more of the same: small-to-significant overpayments for middling-to-slightly above average players in their late twenties or early thirties. It is what it is.

I’m skeptical. He probably improves their depth on the right side, but to what extent? People were so wowed by his size and skating the last time he was here that they never seemed to catch on to the fact that he basically seemed allergic to handling the puck. He hasn’t really blossomed since returning to the KHL, and he’s been a healthy scratch at times, too, so I just don’t see what other people are seeing. I think he can be an okay third-pairing defenseman who can inject some much needed grit into the lineup, but the idea that he’s going to be some kind of saviour of the franchise is pure fantasy.

I feel like you’d get a better deal by waiting, but I honestly can’t say for sure. I’m inclined to think there’s a reason most trading up/down doesn’t happen until the time of the draft, but who knows? If you can get a good deal and have the advantage of an extra day or two to plan ahead I’m certainly not against it.

I guess it would depend on how badly I wanted to make a move. If I know I’m taking X player regardless of where I pick and I’m looking to move a couple spots down, I’ll probably make the call. If I’m happy making the pick where I am, I’m probably not moving it unless a deal that works for me materializes, so I’ll be happy to wait for somebody else to call me.

This is a very good question. It’s very tough to get a read on what Colin Miller’s value is right now, but I can’t imagine Vegas is dealing from a position of strength considering how they handled him last season. If they can get him without giving up any of their premium assets that’s a deal I would pursue. I still think a deal revolving around Miller for Virtanen makes sense for both teams. The question is who has to add? If the answer is Vancouver, I’ll pass; but I’d think about a one-for-one deal. You have to give something up to get something and buying low on Miller is the kind of deal that could seriously pay off for the Canucks in the long run.

Anything that suggests a player is going to have to take significant strides mentally to grow into his physical tools. References to poor decision-making or weak hockey IQ are definitely a significant red flag if the player is demonstrating these weaknesses when they aren’t under pressure. Any player can be guilty of making a mistake under pressure, but if a player is constantly making thoughtless mistakes or being careless with the puck I definitely worry about that.

The USNTDP has the benefit of not only being a great program in terms of the money and resources they are able to devote to developing their players, but also getting their pick of the best players in the country. Some pretty talented players can fall through the cracks either because scouts miss them or they elect to stay home and play in high school or the USHL, but generally the USNTDP gets to have not only a collection of the best players in the country, but also many of the best coaches and staff available at the junior level as well.

Just as a thought experiment, imagine what such a program might look like in Canada. Instead of sending the best Canadian talent off to their individual major junior teams, Hockey Canada would scout players from the time they were 14 or 15 with the goal of developing those players to eventually compete internationally. Those best players would basically form an all-star team and compete in a run of games against teams in the CHL and Canadian university teams and absolutely shred the competition. In most cases, we know quite early on that the Connor McDavids and Sidney Crosbys are future first overall talents long before they even set foot in the CHL, so a Canadain program would likely produce the most first overall picks of any amateur program across hockey.

This isn’t too far off from what the USNTDP is, with the biggest difference being that Canada simply produces way more hockey players because of the unique level of popularity the sport has in Canada and the fact that junior hockey has been an institution for much longer than it has in the US. As hockey continues to grow in the U.S., I’d expect the USNTDP to continue to produce more and more NHLers because of the unique nature of the program and the resources they’re able to devote to assembling and developing the best group of prospects in the country.

If the Avalanche are moving Tyson Barrie, they’re not doing it for anything less than a premium asset, the kind that is completely off-limits for the Canucks in any trade. Only 8 defensemen in the league have more points than Barries since he established himself as a full-time NHLer in 2014-15, and in that span he’s only finished outside the top 20 in scoring among defensemen once. The idea that any team is going to be able to land him in a trade for scraps is ridiculous.

I’m sympathetic to this viewpoint because I think if you told most people that Virtanen was going to hit 15 goals thos year they’d have been very happy (although I’m skeptical he would have hit 20 this season if he’d stayed healthy). Ultimately, though, we’re talking about a player who’s been in the league for the better part of four years and has 59 points in 210 games. He’s got speed and a shot and looks like maybe if everything goes right he’ll pop 20 goals in a season at some point in his career, but he’s still very one-dimensional. His two-way game hasn’t progressed and, I’m sorry, but he just doesn’t really engage physically often enough for me to believe he’s just a power forward waiting to blossom. He’s a good piece to have, and useful, but not a core player. I’m not in a rush to trade him and the Canucks shouldn’t be, either, but he’s by no means untouchable.

I think there are a few different reasons why a lot of people feel ready, maybe even anxious, to move on from Jake Virtanen. For one, the team just has not been very good for the better part of six seasons and they need to overhaul the roster significantly to improve. They’ve let a lot of their assets depreciate to the point where they have next to no value, and when you look around at the roster and see who has value that you can afford to give up, Jake is the first guy that comes up. He’s also starting to inch towards “this is just what he is” territory and if that next step never actually comes, his value isn’t going to get higher than it is right now, when you could still sell a team on his potential. In addition to being one of their only pieces that they can afford to move on from, he’s also a winger, which is a much more fungible position than the other players the Canucks could maybe afford to move on from without it coming back to bite them; like Hutton, Demko, Gaudette, or even Troy Stecher.

Here’s the deal: the Canucks really need to make some rapid alteration to their roster if they’re going to be competitive before the end of Bo Horvat’s contract. To do that, they have to move a lot of pieces out, and bring ones back that are a significant improvement over what they have right now, and like it or not, some combination of Brandon Sutter, Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, and Tim Schaller is not going to bring back the kind of assets that are going to significantly change the team’s direction. If you’re looking to actually get value, you have to look at moving one of the players I mentioned above, and the best combination of value and risk is probably Jake Virtanen.

I’m not saying you have to move him by any means but what else have you got? The clock is ticking on this regime and sitting around and hoping that what they have on the roster is going to be enough to significantly improve their record next season looks like a bad bet to me and I imagine there are a lot of fans and folks in the media who feel the same way.

  • bobdaley44

    Not sure if I agree that Virty can’t play defence when he was used in the the last minutes of games last year. Green must think otherwise. Watching the playoffs you can see that size matters. What are we going to trade him for, Zucker? That would be a lineup to put fear in the opposition. Stetcher, Hughes, Zucker, Baertshi, Hutton, Boeser and Biega. If there one team that needs what Virtanen got it’s the Nucks. Fifteen goals and missing six weeks without a fully mature game yet isn’t too bad.

    • Cageyvet

      You should only want to trade JV if you have no confidence in him continuing to develop. I’m not in that camp.

      Those who are seem to think that it’s obvious what he is (or isn’t), so what do you expect to get in return? Nothing earth-shattering, and I’d rather keep him and hope for the best, he’s still very young.

      If you think I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses and would happily dump him, I get it, that’s one viewpoint.

      Mine is that he has proven he can play in the league, and he has an enviable set of tools – size, speed and an NHL shot. If he can put it together, he’s worth more than he will command in a trade. This team needs to be patient with all its young players, in my opinion, particularly Virtanen and Goldobin.

  • Snoho

    Why trade JV? He is a bottom 6 winger who doesnt kill penalties. He has low hockey IQ and hasn’t evolved since junior. He’s big but doesn’t grind. He has a good shot, is very fast and will never be more valuable after his 15 goal season. Also, some people love draft pedigree. He is the most expendable piece that has some perceived value.

  • bushdog

    i know many will disagree but there is another way – trade one of those core guys. the return could be huge! give it a moment and think what boeser could fetch. what will he possibly bring back? i think it’s a Lot! who could be interested and what could they give back?your opinion please jackson

    • Cageyvet

      The problem with this is you almost certainly get different positional players back, hindering our already sub-par offense even further.

      I’d listen to every trade offer that comes in, you’re stupid not to, but I wouldn’t shop our core players. The negative message that sends when they invariably catch wind of it isn’t worth it. Say goodbye to a friendly contract negotiation…..

  • truthseeker

    All those facts are the exact reason the canucks shouldn’t sell JV. Jake is the exact kind of player you simply keep and either ride him to success or watch him flame out for nothing. No trade return will have any significant value so there is no point in giving up on him. Not every player has to be an “asset” that gets you other “assets”. It’s all or nothing with Jake and I’m perfectly fine with that.

  • Hockey Bunker

    If you watch playoff hockey, JV is exactly the type of guy who is worth his weight in gold. It’s the third and fourth line guys who win you the cup.
    I don’t care if JV was a seventh rounder or first overall, he’s got what only one other Canuck, Bo, has…the power to so it on his own by fighting through.

  • Rodeobill

    Ah, nexgen hockey is where the old CA team now work and do those cool analytics. I was wondering where that all went. Paywall though. Have to think about it.

    • Green Bastard

      Let’s be honest. All the ‘CA crew’ have used or are using this site as a stepping stone to paid gigs, no biggy. They aren’t here to serve whining loser cheapskates like Locust, Bud P, Forever 1915 and me, the original Green Bastard lol.

      As for Virtanen, so he can skate – big deal… go be a figure skater then. Virts is a bum who has not delievered for a top six pick and never will. Trade him for a bag o pucks or cut bait. Wasted pick in a loaded draft.

  • wojohowitz

    Here`s my take on trading down. It`s the Canucks turn with the 10th pick and Caufield is still available and Minnesota picking 12th really wants him but they think Philly will take him with the 11th so they make the Canucks an offer like Zucker. In the heat of the moment does Benning make the trade down to 12th?

    • North Van Halen

      Dude if Minnie offered Zucker with their 12th for the 10th and Vanouver didn’t have to add anything you take that deal so fast you don’t even let the ink dry on the offer. No way you get Zucker for a move of 2 spots.

    • Historically, moving up 1-2 spots in the first round has been a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Benning nearly got a 2nd from McPhee for a #5/6 swap in 2017 (McPhee called Benning’s bluff) while Dorion actually got a 3rd from Shero for a #11/12 swap in 2016. With that in mind, do you think that Fenton will give up Zucker for only a 2nd or 3rd round pick? It’s virtually improbable so your scenario doesn’t work.

  • Defenceman Factory

    I have no issue with the Canucks trading Jake for the right return. Jake’s name comes up as a potential trade target because he is the most valuable asset outside of the key core players. If you look to acquire a talented player you do have to give up something of value.

    The problem I do have is that in these discussions is Jake is under valued. His two way game is fine. Yes he makes mistakes in his own end but overall he certainly is not a Dzone liability. He is an absolute beast in the neutral zone and does well on Ozone entries. The weakest part of his game is still his decision making once gaining the zone but he has steadily improved in this area. Jake still coasts through too many shifts.

    Trading Virtanen for something like a 27 yr old 20 goal scorer does not make sense. Jake may never be a solid top 6 winger but he is an awesome 3rd line guy especially with someone like Roussel on the other wing.

    If Jake is traded it has to be to make the team significantly better and not just to add 5-10 goals a year while giving up his size and speed. If Jake, as part of a package can get you a top line winger or top 4 Dman that trade needs to be considered.

    • Virtanen needs to realize that he’s stronger and faster than most guys in the league and translate that into driving the net on the rush rather than using his speed to go around the net. That move doesn’t need elite vision or playmaking, and it plays to Virtanen’s strengths. Green was the one that figured out in Utica that Virtanen plays better on his off-wing, he should be played as a LW to put him on the forehand when cutting to the net.

      In terms of defence, Virtanen is under-rated as a backchecker. When he was with the Sedins, he could get back to center ice on the backcheck before the Sedins could even clear the offensive zone. Goldobin should be taking notes about how to hustle on defense from him.

      • Green Bastard

        “Virtanen needs to realize that he’s stronger and faster than most guys in the league”

        Hahahaha – wtf!!!! there it is guys, senile delusion…

        again….

        “Virtanen needs to realize that he’s stronger and faster than most guys in the league”

        hahahahaha – me, the original Green Bastard is actually laughing-out-loud. Priceless!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • PQW is a Nation Network Contributor

          Hahaha, the original Green Bastard aka PQW aka Nation Network hack aka the original CA douche monger, the guy who sucks Casey’s d*ck while he’s suck the other contributors d*cks, gobble gobble boi. Oh ya, I’m still here lol

        • Neil B

          “ “Virtanen needs to realize that he’s stronger and faster than most guys in the league”

          Hahahaha – wtf!!!! there it is guys, senile delusion…”

          The average NHLer is 6 foot 1inch and 201 lbs.

          Virtanen is 6 foot 1 and 226 lbs.

          It’s a far bigger stretch that he’s *not* stronger than half the league than that he is.

          McDavid has been mooted as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, with a foot speed of 13.31. Virtanen has clocked in at 13.47, ahead of Pettersson’s arguable time of 13.71 (or
          13.93, if you trust the NHL’s clock). Virtanen’s time would have placed him at second in the all-star skills competition, ahead of Eichel.

          Again, it is more reasonable to believe that Eichel is faster than half the skaters in the NHL, and Virtanen is demonstrably faster than Eichel.

          Speed is, of course, not everything; if it were, Usain Bolt would be earning far, far more by playing soccer than he does in track. But one thing that speed is is quantifiable; and through quantitative measures, your disagreement is with reality, not anyone on this board.

  • Steampuck

    I’m getting tired of all the talk around Virtanen and Tryamkin as big guys who don’t use their size. Yes: the mouth-watering prospect of a colossus defence man laying out an opposing forward or of Virtanen “murders” is appealing. But big, strong players don’t need to be laying players flat to be taking advantage of their physical gifts. From the opposition’s point of view: big, strong, fast guys are difficult to move off the puck or out of position, even if they aren’t super aggressive. I get the whole point of aggression, but I also think we’re limiting some decently talented players to a single identity.

    • But Virtanen and Tryamkin’s identities are based on what they’ve done. Both have shown they can throw bone-crushing hits and knock players flat on their butts in the NHL. In their last seasons, Virtanen and Tryamkin logged about 150 hits in 66-75 games. They haven’t shown other aspects like elite playmaking or goal scoring skills. Virtanen isn’t scoring like Ovechkin or setting up plays like Wheeler. Tryamkin isn’t scoring goals like Burns. Until they demonstrate other skill sets, I think it’s totally fair to demand that they do more of what they’ve shown they do best: throwing hits. Prolific hitters can average 200-300 hits per season so there was plenty of room for improvement in that respect.

      • Goon

        Hits aren’t an end in themselves, though – they’re only valuable insofar as they separate the opposition team from the puck. If you’re throwing big hits but not retrieving the puck, you’re not helping your team (see: Sestito, Tom, for a good Canuck example of this).

        A big player is much more effective if he has the puck and can’t be separated from it, than if he doesn’t have the puck, takes himself out of position to throw a hit, and then fails to retrieve the puck.

        Virtanen’s got the speed to be a useful hitter, and has shown the ability to level a guy and then get the puck on his own stick. But Tryamkin hasn’t.

        • I’d say that Virtanen and Tryamkin would exercise their physicality in different ways. Tryamkin wouldn’t be throwing hits like Virtanen (e.g. on the forecheck) but he would be taking guys out if they try to go wide on the rush or if they try to stand him up in front of the net. Even though it’s not registered as a hit, Tryamkin would be valuable against big net-front players.

          I think hits have more value than just separating people from the puck. I think they can really demoralize a weak team and cause them to crumble (e.g. see many Canuck games from the past). Of course, it could also galvanize a team as well (e.g. Rome on Horton, Torres on Seabrook) but I’d rather see our guy flattening the opposition than vice versa.

          • Green Bastard

            let’s just remind ourselves again…

            “Virtanen needs to realize that he’s stronger and faster than most guys in the league”

            Hahahaha this apologist clown is giving Bud P a run for his money in the senile, deluded widowlicker stakes… Priceless.

          • Goon

            Except that he really wasn’t in his time here, and I don’t see any reason to expect that he’s changed. He was a middling third-pairing defenceman who didn’t use his size particularly effectively, and that was reflected in his poor puck possession, poor goal differential, and mediocre point totals despite playing relatively soft minutes.

            As for hitting having a greater impact, I’m skeptical. There’s no correlation between hits and game outcomes. Calgary threw the fewest hits in the league last season and won the west. Boston and St. Louis were 15th and 24th in the league respectively and are in game 7 of the finals. Can a well-timed hit help shift the flow of the game? Sure. Is this a repeatable skill that GMs should be chasing in place of other, more impactful qualities? Absolutely not.

          • But you have to wonder how much Canucks management and coaching messed up with Tryamkin. Now they understand that they should have been working to Tryamkin’s strengths rather than saying “You’re big. Now play like Chris Pronger.” Absolutely, Tryamkin was bottom pairing when he was here but what could Tryamkin have become if they let him develop his own identity?

            As for Virtanen, surely the highlight reel of hits that he was throwing in junior had an impact on Benning’s decision to draft him as a future power forward? You wouldn’t acquire a player solely for his hitting ability but when it plays to a desired style, I think it’s acceptable to continue to demand (more of) it.

          • Goon

            I wouldn’t be surprised at all of Benning & Co. screwed up Tryamkin’s development, but has he shown anything in the KHL to suggest he’s a different player? I don’t watch KHL hockey but everything I’ve read suggests that he’s a middle-pairing, slightly above-average defenceman in the KHL, which doesn’t scream “impact NHLer”.

          • I don’t think it has to be an “impact or bust” situation. If Tryamkin could even be a serviceable bottom pairing defender on a reasonable contract, that’s a win for a 3rd round draft pick. Just look at last season, Benning’s bottom pairing was mishmash of Pouliot, Del Zotto, Biega, Brisebois, Sautner, Schenn with cameos by Rafferty and Teves. We need Top 4 defenders as much as we need reliable bottom pairing and depth defenders.

  • Burnabybob

    I love Bo Horvat, but the Canucks may get to a point where it makes sense to trade him, especially if Adam Gaudette blossoms, they draft Krebs this year and he looks promising, or if they draft a center next year, in a draft loaded with offensive talent. Horvat is the eldest member of their young core, and trading him could help the team address its offensive weakness. I’m not saying definitely do it, but it’s a possibility.

    • Dirk22

      That’s a massive ‘if’ on Gaudette who will be 23 to start next season – it wasn’t like he was a 19 year old center last year. Horvat is only 1.5 years older. I like Gaudette but I’ll be happy with a capable 3rd line center. That being said, if Krebs is picked, I won’t be disappointed.

    • I’m not sure what you’re expecting to get back in return that will help the offense when you’re trading away your second best scorer (who is only 24). Horvat could be a 30 goal guy next season and there were only 45 players to score 30+ goals last season.

      • Defenceman Factory

        trade away a top 6 centre man and the thing you now need most is a top 6 centre man. Trading Horvat would be an admission the Canucks are several years away from contention and would be trading him for draft picks and/or top tier prospects

    • bobdaley44

      Gaudette isn’t and will never be anywhere near as good as Horvat. Horvat for five years at 5 mill is a very favourable contact and you think it’s wise to trade him?

    • West Coast Hockey Fan

      I would think that it depends… IF, and I know it is a big if, Colorado trades their 4th overall, their 16th, and their 47th I would say it is a wise trade.

  • Dirty30

    LA looks to want to get out from under Phaneuf’s contract — it’s two more years at $7 mil and a modified nmc.

    Would Toffoli be sufficient compensation for taking that contract?

  • Kanuckhotep

    People pay too much attention to where Jake was drafted as it wasn’t Virtanen who asked to be picked 6th overall. Having said that I think we’d all like Shotgun to “live up to” the place where he was picked but all is not lost. The tools are all there but IMHO JV has to really bring it this year as a pivotal secondary scoring guy behind the obvious #40, #53 and #6 because if a team is going to compete in this league secondary offence is the key to success. This must be your year, Jake, or…..