One season ago, Jake Virtanen was Meme King of the Lower Mainland. As 2019/20’s exhibition season reaches its end, however, #ShotgunJake is shooting blanks—and it sounds as though GM Jim Benning might soon consider pulling the trigger on a big country transaction.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) September 23, 2019
Many expected the 23-year-old winger to take another step forward this year—but it’s been a rough preseason for the pride of Abbotsford. Virtanen start training camp by being relegated to the third group after missing Travis Green’s offseason fitness goals—a conspicuous beginning to a supposed breakout campaign.
His first exhibition game—against the Flames in Calgary on September 16—reignited the hype-engine, with Virtanen scoring two goals including the overtime winner and looking strong all over the ice. His subsequent outings, however, have been significantly less impressive—with Virtanen noticeably struggling against more seasoned competition and continually sliding down the Canucks’ lineup.
Virtanen’s performance issues have become so noticeable, in fact, that another infamous Vancouver power forward felt compelled to weigh in:
Bertuzzi on Virtanen : "I hope he gets it, I want him to get it. If he's not getting it after this long, then you have to ask yourself if he really wants to be there.
I can't answer for him, the signs are pointing to that maybe it's becoming overwhelming playing in his hometown?
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) September 24, 2019
Unless Virtanen able to put his best assets on display in the team’s final two preseason games, he may just find himself on the outside of the lineup looking in come opening night. He might also find himself wearing a different jersey the next time he hits NHL ice.
And so, we ask:
What would you do with Jake Virtanen if you were Jim Benning?
Last week, we asked:
What would you do with the Canucks’ 2019/20 pressbox crew?
(…and very few of you responded! Guess that’s what we get for centering an entire feature around the likes of Alex Biega and Oscar Fantenberg.)
Gaudette and Schaller down.
Motte and Goldobin in the box. Pick either Biega or Fantenberg to join them and the other goes down. I think they should clear at this point in the season.
I’d put Motte and Leivo in the box with Biega. Fantenberg as the first call-up on D when Tanev and/or Edler go down. Schaller and Gaudette in Utica, Roussel on LTIR. There’s enough grit and two-way players on the wings with Ferland, Virtanen, Eriksson, and Pearson. What we really need is more offense in the lineup, so I’d keep Goldobin and Baertschi in; they’d be relatively sheltered (perhaps playing with Sutter) while we’d finally have what feels like two solid scoring lines in the top two. Maybe that would take some pressure off them.
I agree with both of the above. I think Fantenberg should stay up as I suspect he requires waivers. I’m not saying he’s a hot commodity, and early is always the best time to sneak guys down, but I doubt Biega would get picked up at his age and contract. I love the Bulldog, but he is at max capacity already and due to decline—stick with the younger players. If we lose Biega, so be it, more room for Juolevi to get called up.
(Big ups to tyhee for single-handedly boosting our word count to an acceptable level!)
CapFriendly right now lists 26 players on the Canucks and has them about $1.7 million over the cap. The 26 are Eriksson, Boeser, Horvat, Miller, Sutter, Pearson, Ferland, Baertschi, Roussel, Beagle, Schaller, Leivo, Virtanen, Motte, Pettersson, Goldobin, Edler, Myers, Tanev, Stecher, Benn, Hughes, Fantenberg, Biega and the obvious two goalies.
The first thing is obviously to place Roussel on the LTIR and get league approval for cap relief, which should be automatic. That gets them to 25 players, two more to go.
The simplest way to deal with getting down to 23 players is to assign two waiver-exempt players to Utica or Kalamazoo, so obviously down go Pettersson and Hughes.
Ok, for those that I didn’t lose with that feeble joke, one can never predict injuries. Based on past injuries and the depth of the roster that has quite a few players in the mix for a roster spot at forwards and at most one extra truly in the mix on defence, they’re more likely to need to avoid losing a defenceman on waivers than to need to avoid losing a forward. What forwards to waive is up to the coaching staff, but Schaller seems like an obvious possibility for one, which would leave one more.
The other one may be determined for the Canucks if someone has to go on injured reserve. Otherwise in the circumstances I’d suggest waiving whatever forward the coaches choose after the preseason subject to—if the decision is close, waiving an older player less likely to be useful long-term than a younger player who might be. If that means having to proceed without Eriksson in the lineup we fans will just have to suck it up and bear it.
Going to answer my own question here:
If the Canucks are ever going to roll with the 14 forward/7 defensemen combination, this is the season to do it. They’re faced with some tough decisions up front, and have a couple of potential D call-ups in Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty that can go up and down endlessly without waivers.
This would put Oscar Fantenberg and Alex Biega in direct competition for the seventh spot – with Guillaume Brisebois as a dark horse contender – and at this point I would say that Biega has the inside track. Fantenberg’s status as a newly-signed UFA may end up being the deciding factor.
By carrying 14 forwards, the Canucks can avoid sending one of Loui Eriksson and Tim Schaller – and maybe even both of them – to Utica. It would also allow them to hang on to Nikolay Goldobin and Tyler Motte at least a little bit longer. It makes the most sense from an asset management perspective to carry 14 forwards.