The Vancouver Canucks’ lineup is almost set in stone. But how about this minor tweak?
As you may know by now, I am hoping for the Vancouver Canucks to play Loui Eriksson on their second line with Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat. Create two legitimate scoring lines and all, you know? But, I also know that probably won’t happen at the beginning of the season, and thankfully, there is another great option for the Baertschi-Horvat line: Jake Virtanen.
Virtanen had a tough rookie season. He was one of many players who seem too far in their development to play in junior, but not far enough to be full-time NHLers. Thanks to the NHL’s agreement with the CHL, however, players like Virtanen aren’t allowed to play in the American Hockey League. Which sucks.
The Canucks made a decision and made him a full-time member of their roster — with the exception of a short trip to Finland for the World Junior Championship — but wanted to bring him along slowly nonetheless. When a player is a full-time NHL player, bringing him along slowly equals bottom-six time and healthy scratches. Shelter him and make his life easy.
Unfortunately, that didn’t make Virtanen’s life easier. Not one bit. Instead of developing his power-forward scoring game, Virtanen became what was quite possibly Vancouver’s best defensive forward. That obviously isn’t a terrible thing; but if the Canucks want him to become the kind of scorer that was worth the sixth-overall pick in 2014, they better give him the ice time he needs to get past seven goals and 13 points.
In 2016-17, that should be an easy task. For one, Virtanen is now eligible to play for the AHL Utica Comets. If the Canucks decided to send him down there, he would without a doubt be the star player and get top-line minutes. That should, however, only be a last resort.
Ice Time and Line Mates
Players that score a lot get more ice time than those who don’t score much. There is a strong correlation between the two stats. A common misinterpretation is that the players who get a large amount of ice time earned that time by scoring much. While that is in part true, it certainly works the other way around as well.
Alexander Ovechkin led the league in scoring last season, lighting the lamp 50 times. More than a third of that total, 18 to be exact, came on the power play. So, if you cut Ovechkin’s power-play time, his goal total drops to 32. Now, if you also cut his average even-strength time from roughly 16 minutes per game to nine minutes, that total could drop to, say, 20.
The same thing applies to line mates as well. Ovechkin spends most of his time playing with elite playmakers like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. If you paired him with Jay Beagle instead, and perhaps Daniel Winnik on the other wing, while playing those nine minutes per night, I am sure Ovechkin wouldn’t score more than 15 goals per night.
And that is only half of Virtanen’s production in 2015-16.
So why not give Virtanen a legitimate chance?
Instead of playing nine minutes per night with guys like Adam Cracknell, Derek Dorsett or Brandon Prust, Virtanen should get a shot at 15 minutes on a line with (somewhat) proven NHL scorers. Jannik Hansen scored between nine and 11 goals most of his career and got up to 22 playing top-line minutes with the Sedins. Why shouldn’t that work with Virtanen?
It obviously isn’t quite that easy. Virtanen would still have to do his part. Even playing with Sidney Crosby as your center, you don’t just start scoring 30 goals. But regaining that scoring confidence Virtanen once had should be a lot easier with Baertschi and Horvat.
At the start of the season, the lineup could look like this:
Sedin – Sedin – Eriksson
Baertschi – Horvat – Virtanen
Rodin – Sutter – Hansen
Burrows – Granlund – Dorsett
To be completely honest, that’s the best the Canucks can do with their current roster. Virtanen is without a doubt ready to play in the NHL, and it’s all about getting him scoring again. If he doesn’t work out in the new role, he can still be moved around the lineup or sent down to Utica.
We don’t know where it would go. But Virtanen should at least get a real chance to establish himself.