Vancouver Canucks RW Jake Virtanen should go to the World Junior Championships


The Vancouver Canucks have a decision to make on Jake Virtanen. Should they send their rookies to the World Juniors Canada camp, which begins December 10th, 2015.

A potential trip to the World Junior Championship is fast approaching for two Vancouver Canucks rookies, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen.

Although the two have fit in to be daily NHL-ers with the Canucks, the opportunity to wear the Canadian red and white is always and enticing prospect, especially for Jake Virtanen who would be looking to defend the Gold that he won as part of the 2015 Team Canada. The Vancouver Canucks have till December 19th to make the call.

Team Canada desperately needs Jake Virtanen.

Last year for Team Canada, the physical forward suited up and recorded 4 points in 7 games, largely playing a checking, energy-line role. Though his physical play often put his team on the PK, Virtanen’s physicality was unmatched by anyone else on Team Canada, perhaps unmatched by any other in the entire tournament.

But this year, Team Canada might look to Virtanen for some scoring prowess, too. With Connor McDavid out with the fracture, Team Canada does not have a scoring phenom in their midst. Especially with his experience, Virtanen would provide the team some explosiveness and an underrated scoring prowess.

But looking from the Vancouver Canucks perspective, the team loses much speed and physicality by sending Virtanen to Team Canada.

Over the course of the WJC Team Canada camp and the entire tournament – provided that Canada sticks right to the end – the Vancouver Canucks play a stretch of 12 games – 6 home and 6 away. This includes a six-game road trip against Eastern and Central foes, sandwiched between home stands against Pacific division rivals and Eastern teams – including Robert Luongo’s Florida Panthers.

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The Vancouver Canucks will definitely miss Virtanen’s physicality against foes like the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. In a stretch so crucial to the playoff race, Vancouver Canucks desperately need wins versus the Coyotes and their division rivals.

And that’s why they are going to keep McCann on this side of the pond. Jared McCann would also love to suit up for Canada. But the former Soo Greyhound has been complimenting the struggling Vrbata so well. You can tell that Vrbata loves McCann, especially after the veteran sniper out-right called the rookie 19-year-old the next Joe Sakic in the making. McCann has done what he had advertised to do coming in – scoring. The centerman has 9 points in 22 games played, and has earned the coach’s trust.

McCann’s point production and RelCorsi% is far superior to Virtanen’s, which is even more sublime considering that McCann starts much of his shifts in the defensive zone while Virtanen is used more offensively. McCann has all the reasons to be more coveted than Virtanen in these departments. Should Sutter’s absence continue into the WJC phase, there is no way that McCann is being let go.

But back to Virtanen, the Vancouver Canucks will definitely miss his physical presence. I am in no way suggesting that Virtanen is hurting the team. What I am suggesting is the very opposite.

The Vancouver Canucks would be hurting Jake Virtanen by keeping him off Team Canada.

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  • The WJC is a prime opportunity for Virtanen to regain his ‘A-Game’. It is a leadership opportunity, it is a confidence booster, and it is, most importantly, an opportunity for him to score again. Team Canada would be a completely different environment than it is here for him in Vancouver, where he has just 4 points in 18 games, averaging barely 10 minutes of ice time a game.

    Remember when the big bodied right-winger was drafted 6th overall – the highest the Canucks have drafted since the Sedins? Virtanen was ranked the top skater in the draft, and he has done admirably in that department. But recall the flip side of the equation: the goal scoring. Here is Virtanen’s profile right after the 2014 draft:

    "Virtanen is a heads-up player who thinks the game well and is willing to get his nose dirty. He has slick hands, a dynamic shot and a strong stride that makes him dangerous. He can be outright dominant at times offensively with his blend of size, skill and speed. (August 2013) – Future Considerations"

    See; unlike McCann, Virtanen is only playing half of his true game.

    The physicality is just superb. But the blistering shot – perhaps half the reason that the Vancouver Canucks drafted Jake Virtanen at 6th overall – has not come through for the rookie right-winger.

    I get it that the kid had to play his fortes out to make the team. That is exactly what you want them to do, no like what Ronalds Kenins did. Kenins is stuck down in Utica because he refused to play his gritty, abrasive game, and started playing like a scoring winger that he wasn’t called to be.

    But still. Don’t forget why the Vancouver Canucks drafted him.

    "“Jake has undeniable skill. Excellent skater who has speed, quickness and power. Can beat defenders with his skating and when he gets an advantage, his size makes it almost impossible for a defender to get back on equal footing. Very strong shot and can beat goaltenders from out but also has the quickness in his hands to score in tight. Has the potential to be a dynamic scoring winger.”–Craig Button, TSN Head Scout"

    Now that Virtanen has stuck with the Vancouver Canucks, a quarter way into the NHL season, he should start playing his full game, which includes scoring. Give the coach a reason to put you on the ice over other gritties like Dorsett and Prust, who play better defensively than you do. Drive the net, shred the opposition goalie with the blistering shot you have, and score some points.

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    And for that reason, it is time Jake Virtanen took a small step back from the NHL, to his good ol’ WJC Team Canada. You know – one step back for a huge leap forward.

    By going to the WJC, Virtanen will be able to revive that offensive game of his while taking on a leadership role. He can step back from the NHL competition for ice-time, he can step back from the obligation of having to over-commit to his hitting game. Of course, I’m sure he will do his fair share of up-ending those 6’5″ 230lbs Russian defenders. I’m quite sure. But get those blistering shots back in your daily arsenal and get those power dekes back in your hands.

    The fans won’t mind losing a 3rd line checking winger for a few weeks, when he returns a confident top-6 power forward.

    Next: Prospects Watch: Three Stars of November

    If the Vancouver Canucks want Virtanen to develop to the fullest and the most complete player he can be – the elite power forward who can score and check – they might have to sacrifice his services for a dozen games or so. Just a dozen games.