Some NHL player archetypes have changed little since the leagues’s inception: the speedy goal-scoring winger, the high-IQ centre, the slow-moving but methodical defenceman; but the Canucks have two somewhat similar players on their roster for the upcoming season that share a similar profile.
Both Jake Virtanen and free-agent signing Micheal Ferland are the type of wingers that an organization can live or die by. With edge in their game but also an eye for the net, these two forwards want to score goals but also leave their opponent wishing to never face them again.
They can bring the elements of old and new hockey together in a stylistic and fashionable combination that makes you show up to the rink knowing something could happen any second. Whether it’s Ferland going in for a hard one-timer against the Columbus Blue Jackets, or Virtanen getting the better of someone in a fight, there’s always something going on with these two throughout the season.
There’s certainly enough room for these two to play their own game in the Canucks’ lineup, but creating space on the ice for their respective linemates as the season progresses is an attribute both players are likely to share. They might start and end with different roles on this roster – Ferland more likely to be in the top-six than Virtanen – but their roles and duties will most likely be the same.
Is it possible Virtanen could learn and develop further by emulating a similar winger four years his senior?
The games played don’t exactly match up — Ferland has 321 under his belt, while Virtanen isn’t far behind with 210 — but the Canucks sixth-overall pick just finished his fourth season with at least some experience in the NHL, when at his age, Ferland was just wrapping up his short debut season with the Calgary Flames.
What Ferland can demonstrate is that there is a clear path for a player like Virtanen to become a 20-goal scorer. He’s not a perfect player by any means, but if Virtanen were to develop into the type of player Ferland can be at peak performance, that would be a win for the Canucks.
The new Canuck is someone that can play up the lineup and benefit from better players on their line. He’s played a significant amount of time with elite players like Sebastian Aho in Carolina and Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, and didn’t look out of place. He definitely played better with them than he did without them, but that shouldn’t be considered a knock on the player he is.
It’s a legitimate skill to be able keep up with some of the best players in all of hockey. If some of that ability spreads to Virtanen, he might not be shuffled around the lineup so much like he did last year.
One benefit that he does have is his youth. There’s still a couple years to fully discover what type of player he is and hopefully the development staff can help him become that Ferland-esque player. But seeing Ferland on the ice while he’s sitting by the sidelines and — hopefully — scoring some goals alongside Bo Horvat or Elias Pettersson would set enough of an example for the younger winger.
Hit some guys, create some space, and go hard to the net to shoot the puck basically standing right on top of the goaltender — maybe then Virtanen could have a 20-goal season.