7 young forwards and high-value draft picks: What can the Anaheim Ducks offer up for Jake Virtanen?
Photo credit:© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
2 years ago
The polar vortex may still be upon us, but the stove is as hot as it’s ever been in the Vancouver market. Rumours haven’t been flowing this smoothly and consistently since Fleetwood Mac left the charts in ’77; as GM Jim Benning and Co. try desperately to break the chain of losses that have left the Canucks near the bottom of the standings, and before ownership cuts the cord on their employment.
A few weeks back, we took a look at the rumblings around the Nashville Predators and their interest in Adam Gaudette. This week, the attention has turned back to the oft-theoretically traded Jake Virtanen, with the Anaheim Ducks identified by several in the media as the top contenders for the enigmatic young forward’s services.
At this point, it sounds as though the second year on Virtanen’s contract is a stumbling block, but not an insurmountable one. It also sounds as though the Canucks are specifically looking for a swap of young forwards, with their eyes on someone under the age of 25. In any case, while the two franchises are busy ironing out the details — or not — it gives us the opportunity to wildly speculate about what such a transaction might entail.
Or, put differently, if the Anaheim Ducks are really interested in Virtanen, how interested are they, and what might they be willing to offer up in return for him?
Why the Ducks wants Virtanen
Sometimes, a single player is in need of a change of scenery. Other times, an entire team needs to rearrange the set-pieces. Virtanen falls into the former category, and the Anaheim Ducks fall into the latter.
The rebuilding Ducks have a quackton of talented, youngish forwards, but none of them have been able to make much noise at the NHL level — save for Maxime Comtois and the recently recalled Trevor Zegras. They’re not far enough along their development path as a franchise to start dealing some of these stunted youngsters for veterans, so their only real option is to trade them for other, similar assets and see if there’s a better fit.
Virtanen probably won’t be that better fit, but he could be, and he certainly carries about as much potential as some of the Ducks’ depth forwards. With Ryan Kesler on permanent LTIR, they’ve also got the space to accommodate Virtanen’s contract, even if they’d rather not.
We’re talking a lottery ticket for lottery ticket sort of transaction, though in this case, the tickets might be close to expiring.
Anaheim assets worth targeting
As per the current rumours, we’ll mostly be focusing on young forwards here, though not exclusively. The Ducks have a number of assets worthy of Benning and Co.’s consideration.
Josh Manson, RHD, 29
Two years @ $4.1 million (UFA)
If there is one semi-available player in the Anaheim organization that would singlehandedly improve the Canucks, it’s got to be Manson. He’s a big, ornery right-handed defender who has shown some real offensive pop in the past, though his numbers have faded of late.
With the Expansion Draft on the horizon, Manson is probably about as tradeable as he’s ever been. He is, however, on the IR for at least a couple more weeks, and does have a 12-team no-trade clause that he could use to block a move to Vancouver.
He’s also significantly more valuable than Virtanen. So much so that Virtanen would have to be considered the sweetener, rather than the main piece, in any trade for Manson.
Sam Steel, C, 23
One year @ $863K (RFA)
Steel became a household name after starring for Canada at the World Juniors, but he’s since struggled to find any sort of consistency at the NHL level. Instead of progressing, Steel has seen his points-per-game drop in each of his three seasons with the Ducks, and he’s slid down the depth chart, too.
Two drafts younger than Virtanen, Steel still has the edge in terms of potential, but Virtanen has undoubtedly proven more at this point. Steel’s status as a center is what tips the scales of value in his favour. It should be noted, however, that Steel has defensive troubles as well as offensive, so no one should be expecting him to arrive in Vancouver as the long-awaited 3C saviour.
Max Jones, LW, 23
One year @ $863K (RFA)
Despite being drafted six spots ahead of Steel, Jones has usually been described as the lesser prospect of the two, but he’s probably the more useful NHLer at this juncture. Jones has a wide frame that he knows how to use effectively, and has proven to be an effective physical presence at every level he’s played at. He’s also a shoot-first, straight-line sort of player who doesn’t bother getting fancy, which may be a welcome addition to the Canucks’ mix right now.
Even though Jones is younger, swapping Virtanen for him would constitute giving up the player with the higher offensive potential. The odds on Jones sticking around in the league longer than Virtanen, however, are high, and there’s still plenty of time for those numbers to jump.
Troy Terry, C/RW, 23
Three years @ $1.45 million (RFA)
Terry is most famous for his shootout heroics at the World Juniors, but offensive production has not defined his transition to the pro ranks. Instead, Terry has demonstrated a strong defensive acumen for the Ducks, sporting positive possession numbers over the last couple seasons despite playing on some truly dreadful rosters.
Which is not to say that the scoring potential isn’t there. Terry went point-per-game in his rookie AHL campaign, and popped in another 16 points in 14 games with the San Diego Gulls last season. One draft younger and four rounds later than Virtanen, Terry could easily be construed as the more valuable player in the modern-day — but his lack of production at the NHL level might leave the door open for an even swap.
Danton Heinen, LW/RW, 25
One year @ $2.5 million (RFA)
Heinen’s is one name that has been thrown around a lot in Virtanen trade discussions, though it’s not a particularly appealing one. Picked exactly 110 spots after Virtanen in the 2014 Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins, Heinen burst onto the scene with a 47-point rookie campaign — and then proceeded to regress in every season since then.
The similarities between the two are honestly striking. Both are local products. Both have issues in their own end and cannot be trusted to kill penalties. Both may already have their best days behind them at age 25. In fact, Heinen was already traded for a very Virtanen-esque player last season in Nick Ritchie.
All told, a Virtanen-for-Heinen swap seems very possible. But it also reads like one in which the Canucks are more likely to come out on the wrong end, and it doesn’t seem like it will do much to ease the frustrations of the fanbase.
Isac Lundestrom, LW/C, 21
One year @ $925K (RFA)
Still just 21, Lundestrom made the Ducks right out of the 2018 Entry Draft, but only played 15 games. He’s since gone on to play 15 more NHL games in 2019/20 and 13 more this year. It seems like he’s been around forever already, but he’s still stuck on a scant eight career points.
There’s nothing especially appealing about Lundestrom to the Canucks, and it’s likely that he’ll be given at least a few more chances to figure it out in Anaheim, anyway. He’s unlikely to be included in a Virtanen deal.
Sonny Milano, LW, 24
Two years @ $1.7 million (RFA)
Milano makes the list on the qualification of being a young forward — drafted ten spots after Virtanen in 2014 — but that’s really the only reason. After putting up 14 goals in 55 games in 2017/18, Milano hasn’t done enough at the NHL level to even maintain a permanent spot, though the Ducks have handed him one anyway. There’s also not much present in his game to suggest a breakout is on the horizon, either.
Milano did put up five points in nine games with the Ducks after being acquired last year, but his two-year, $1.7 million AAV extension was still a head-scratcher. If the Canucks really want him, they can probably wait until he inevitably hits waivers in the near future.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx, C, 21
Three years @ $823K (RFA)
Of Anaheim’s many prospects — excluding those top-tier assets that wouldn’t even be close to available in a Virtanen-centric transaction — “Bo” Groulx is the one the Canucks should be most interested in. Not only did he put up eye-popping numbers in the QMJHL, he was also named the league’s top defensive forward of 2019/20.
Only nine games into his AHL career, no conclusions can be drawn about Groulx’s pro transition, but he seems to have future upside as the sort of checking center the Canucks are in desperate need of. Here, however, we must answer the question of whether the Ducks really want Virtanen, or are merely kicking the tires, because they don’t have much impetus to move Groulx otherwise.
Axel Andersson, RHD, 21
Three years @ $872K (RFA)
A second-round pick of the Bruins in 2018, Andersson was flipped to Anaheim as part of the Ondrej Kase trade. After spending last year in the QMJHL — his first in North America — he’s back in the Allsvenskan for the current season.
Andersson is a classic, smooth-skating, all-around Swedish defender with limited — but not nonexistent — offensive potential. He’s also a right shot, and that’s what makes him most attractive to the Canucks. Anaheim wouldn’t be all that hesitant to include him in a deal, either.
First Round Pick in 2021
Virtanen may have been a first-round pick, but he’s not worth one anymore — and certainly not one from what is likely to be a lottery team. That particular window of opportunity, if it was ever open, has firmly closed.
Second Round Pick in 2021
On the one hand, Virtanen scored 18 goals last year and is just 24, so a second-rounder might feel like fair value for him. On the other hand, the Ducks have the fourth-worst points-percentage in the entire league, so their second-round pick will essentially be a late first. Virtanen isn’t quite worth that.
Second Round Pick in 2022
Maybe. See above.
Third Round Pick in 2021
Some sources have indicated that several teams are willing to give up at least a third-round pick in exchange for Virtanen. When it came to Gaudette, we reasoned that trading him for a third would be pointless, and it would be better to hang on to him if that was the best the Canucks could get. With Virtanen, there’s the added value of gaining cap space, but that’s only worthwhile if you have something else to spend that space on, and the Canucks don’t really.
If this is the best the Ducks offer, the Canucks should pass.
The all-purpose Virtanen-to-Anaheim valuation chart
To help you put together your own trade proposals, we’ve translated each of the assets we’ve mentioned into their numerical value relative to Virtanen and charted them.
|First Round Pick in 2021||3.0+|
|Second Round Pick in 2021||1.25|
|Second Round Pick in 2022||1.0|
|Third Round Pick in 2021||0.6|
What would you ask from Anaheim in return for Jake Virtanen? Chuck a trade proposal in our comments section to let us know!
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