There are those in the Vancouver Canucks fanbase that have been angling for Jake Virtanen’s departure ever since the local product was drafted sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, the “Trade Jake” movement has only grown, put on pause by an apparent breakout campaign and then increased to a fever pitch when Virtanen experienced not one, but two offseasons of regression in 2020 — returning-to-play rather ineffectually in August and then coming back even worse off in January of 2021.
But Virtanen’s impending exit didn’t truly become a national headline until Saturday’s ill-fated Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, during which Elliotte Friedman spoke of the possibility of a trade and Chris Johnston reported on Vancouver’s desire to give Virtanen a “fresh start” somewhere else, preferably flipping him for another player seeking the proverbial “change of scenery.”
Chris Johnston on Headlines says the heat is intensifying in Vancouver but it’s a tough year to shake things up. CJ wonders if the #Canucks give Jake Virtanen a fresh start, has had a tough start to the year, he’s been in and out of the line-up.
— NHL Watcher (@NHL_Watcher) February 7, 2021
But on-air banter is still a long way from a completed transaction, and such chatter only raises a couple of obvious questions: Who would want to give Virtanen a fresh start, and who or what might they be willing to give up in return for him?
Just like Jacques Cousteau, CanucksArmy seeks the answers below!
Potential Trade Destinations For Jake Virtanen
In searching for a potential trade partner in the impromptu Virtanen sweepstakes, we’re primarily looking for those teams that lack depth on the wings, particularly in the middle-six. Teams with strong veteran cores theoretically capable of shaping Virtanen into a more effective NHLer are preferred. We’d also like to focus on those teams that are ready and willing to give up picks, prospects, or other similar projects in return. And, of course, the further away from Vancouver, the better, for all parties involved.
Fortunately, the list is a rather lengthy one, and we’ve whittled it down to a top-nine, in honour of Virtanen’s potential as a top-nine winger.
So, who’s going to turn Shotgun Jake into Shotgone Jake?
Why they want Virtanen: The Coyotes are firmly within the middle of the pack in a West Division with at least one playoff spot up for grabs. They’ll be aiming to be competitive all season long, but currently lack the forward depth to make much noise, with names like Derick Brassard, Drake Caggiula, and our old friend Michael Chaput playing regular minutes up and down the lineup.
Virtanen’s the perfect age to fit in with Arizona’s young core of Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun, and Barrett Hayton, and he adds some significant size to what is a relatively undersized forward corps. This is a team that can afford to give Virtanen as much of a shot as he needs to turn it around.
What they might offer in return: If we’re talking a direct swap, then Lawson Crouse is a name that makes a lot of sense. He’s got a similar draft pedigree to Virtanen, is a year younger, and is off to a similarly hot start (read: not hot at all). His knock-down, drag-out style is also a much better fit for the bottom-six than Virtanen’s, and that’s probably a better fit for what the Canucks need right now.
Picks and prospects are always nice, but Arizona isn’t enough of a contender yet to be throwing those around too freely. Any recently drafted player the Canucks might be interested in would probably be too valuable to flip for Virtanen.
Why they want Virtanen: What better place for a person who’s worn out their welcome in Vancouver to find acceptance than Boston? The Bruins are still trying to squeeze another couple of Cup runs out of the Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron core, and they’re currently doing a pretty good job of it with an 8-1-2 record as of this writing.
But the Bruins are a little bit thin on the wings. Right now, they’ve got Nick Ritchie and Anders Bjork in the top-six, with Ondrej Kase on the IR — as he seemingly always is — and Jake DeBrusk right there with him, and reportedly on the trade block. Boston might be the one franchise with a violent cultural tradition strong enough to wake up the power forward supposedly sleeping within Virtanen’s girthy frame.
Friedman, for the record, has specifically referenced Boston as a team with major interest in adding Virtanen.
What they might offer in return: The aforementioned Ritchie and Bjork both come from Virtanen’s draft class, and have both also disappointed to varying degrees. But Bjork doesn’t bring anything to the table that the Canucks don’t already have, and Ritchie currently has nine points in 11 games, so he’s probably firmly off the market.
Debrusk, a year younger, is a much more intriguing option. His development appears to have stalled in Boston, but he’s scored near a 50-point-pace for most of his NHL career thus far, and still has potential as a top-six fixture. The Canucks would probably need to add to Virtanen to seal the deal, and they’d have to get clever with the cap to accommodate the difference in salary, but there’s definitely something there to work with.
Of course, the Bruins are always down to deal futures in return for immediate improvements, and it might not take them all that much more than a second rounder to land Virtanen.
Why they want Virtanen: Shotgun Jake played the best hockey of his career in Calgary, and a return to his old stomping ground might be all it takes to reignite his game. The Flames are still figuring out their best mix of wingers, with players like Josh Leivo and Dominik Simon in and out of the lineup, and that could mean a chance for Virtanen to slide in and succeed.
Plus, GM Brad Treliving obviously has a bit of a “thing” for former Canucks, so it’s only natural that he’d target Virtanen.
What they might offer in return: We’ve all heard the speculation, and we’re not here to contradict it. A Virtanen-for-Sam Bennett trade makes an awful lot of sense. Bennett is a better fit in the bottom-six than Virtanen, a far better playoff performer, and still has some untapped potential as a center — and a checking center at that, which the Canucks desperately need.
Aside from the risk of Virtanen finally turning it on in Calgary and making Vancouver pay for years to come in Tyler Toffoli-esque fashion, this is a deal that just plain works for all sides.
Detroit Red Wings
Why they want Virtanen: The Wings are currently icing one of the worst rosters in NHL history. They could benefit from the addition of any NHL level talent, but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, so it would have to be a long-term investment to make sense.
Enter Jake Virtanen.
He could slot in anywhere from the first line to the third in Detroit, and probably count on at least a top-six assignment for the rest of the season. He’d also join fellow local exile Troy Stecher and former Canuck Sam Gagner there, so that’s an added bonus.
What they might offer in return: Detroit has no business getting rid of anyone currently holding down NHL minutes for them. That means their offer for Virtanen would have to be heavily futures-based, and that might work out fine for the Canucks.
The Red Wings are chock-full of prospects about to age out of the system, like Evgeny Svechnikov and former Chilliwack Chief Dennis Cholowski, and a few of those types, plus a draft pick or two, probably constitutes an enticing enough package for Virtanen.
Why they want Virtanen: The Predators are currently stuck in that awkward no-man’s land between contention and a full-on rebuild, and right now they’re still trying to compete. At this point, depth all over the lineup is an issue for them, but particularly at the wings, where Virtanen would certainly stand out from a relatively shrimpy group.
Coach John Hynes hasn’t had much success with mercurial forwards in the past, but maybe he’ll click with Virtanen and draw something more out of him. If not, Virtanen’s still a valuable warm body as Nashville fights for a playoff spot in the Central.
What they might offer in return: By far the most intriguing name is Eeli Tolvanen, a 21-year-old who arrived in Nashville on a wave of hype, but who has fallen flat for three seasons running now. Tolvanen hasn’t even been able to put up impressive numbers in the AHL, or anywhere except the KHL for that matter, and might have actually regressed significantly since his draft year — but he’s still plenty young enough to turn it around.
Yakov Trenin, the rookie forward who straight-up dropped Zdeno Chara last year, is also a name worth exploring, though he carries a much lesser pedigree than Tolvanen and Virtanen.
Nashville, as always, has a bevy of picks and prospects to offer, but they may be a little too close to that inevitable retooling to give those up without a lot of prompting.
New York Islanders
Why they want Virtanen: If any organization is going to instill in Virtanen the discipline he needs to succeed at the NHL level, it’s probably the one headed by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. The Islanders are off to a middling start in the ultra-competitive East Division, and they’ll be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in if they don’t turn it around soon. This could be a match made in hockey heaven.
Currently, the player drafted one spot ahead of Virtanen in the 2014 Entry Draft, Michael Dal Colle, is holding down a spot in the top-six, and they’ve still got a broken-down old Leo Komarov skating regular shifts. There’s definitely room for Virtanen to earn minutes and make a genuine impact.
What they might offer in return: One might think that the aforementioned Dal Colle is the logical return, but the Canucks shouldn’t be all that interested in what he offers. Josh Ho-Sang makes some sense for similar reasons, but he was available on waivers for free earlier this year, and would constitute a throw-in at best.
When it comes to the Islanders, Vancouver would be wisest to target a younger player who has thus far struggled to crack the main roster. Think Kieffer Bellows, Mitch Vande Sompel, or the other Sebastian Aho. A true prospect like Bode Wilde would be nice, but that’s probably a pipe-dream.
Why they want Virtanen: On the one hand, the Senators are in the same boat as Detroit in icing an AHL-quality roster on a nightly basis. On the other, they’ve got an abundance of young forwards battling for ice-time, and Virtanen would serve to only further clog the pipeline.
Still, Ottawa was reportedly heavily interested in Virtanen during the offseason — even willing to take him as the sweetener in a Loui Eriksson dump, if rumours are to be believed — and that interest apparently hasn’t lessened since the start of the 2021 season. The fact that they could acquire Virtanen without him having to quarantine is obviously a huge plus.
What they might offer in return: Where to begin? Chris Tierney, only two years older than Virtanen, would make an excellent stop-gap center. Logan Brown is a younger, but similar, option, who may have blown his last chance in Ottawa this past training camp.
On the farm, names like Vitaly Abramov could also draw interest, and any Ottawa draft picks one can get their hands on are always valuable commodities.
Heck, if that Virtanen-and-Eriksson-for-nothing trade is still on the table, the Canucks should snap that up in a heartbeat.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Why they want Virtanen: At first, the Leafs looked like a poor fit for Virtanen, but an injury to Wayne Simmonds that could keep him out for most of the remaining regular season changes the situation greatly.
In Toronto, Virtanen would presumably be given the chance to play in the top-six aside the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, and that could pay immediate dividends. He might price himself out of Toronto thereafter, but that’s still well worth their while if they get a couple productive seasons out of him.
What they might offer in return: If Alexander Kerfoot weren’t signed for so long, he might be the perfect candidate. Instead, we turn our eyes to Pierre Engvall, an enormous winger from Virtanen’s draft year that achieved point-per-game status in the AHL last year, but hasn’t been able to crack the Leafs on a consistent basis.
Timothy Liljegren, a fellow much-hyped prospect who has had issues at the pro level, would be an absolute dream return for Virtanen, but he’s three years younger, so that’s a longshot. If not him, there’s always Travis Dermott, who has plenty of experience playing on the right and a very similar résumé to Virtanen.
Why they want Virtanen: With one of the oldest cores in the league, the Capitals are all-in for the next few years. That same core of veterans, which added Zdeno Chara this offseason, might be just the sort of mentors Virtanen needs. After all, who better to learn the intricacies of being a big-bodied winger with a heavy shot from than Alex Ovechkin himself?
With TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana on the sidelines, Washington currently has Daniel Carr, Richard Panik, Carl Hagelin, and Garnet Hathaway in their top-nine. Oshie and Vrana will return before long, but that’s still evidence of an overall lack of winger depth that Virtanen could help alleviate.
What they might offer in return: No one on the NHL roster stands out, save for Jonas Siegenthaler, who they’d be loath to give up. The Caps do, however, possess a number of interesting prospects on the cusp of big-league duty that could be worth a look. Other that that, it’s down to draft picks.
Which of these teams would you target in a potential Virtanen trade? Sound off in the comments to let us know!