Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen needs a strong 2018

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5: Jake Virtanen
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5: Jake Virtanen /

The Vancouver Canucks have been frustrated with the lack of progress from prospect Jake Virtanen, who could be facing a make-or-break year in 2018.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season that saw the Vancouver Canucks miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, they at least got a chance to change the franchise with the sixth-overall pick in 2014.

New general manager Jim Benning chose the 6-foot-1, 229 pound Jake Virtanen — hoping he would be a reliable power forward that could post 20-25 goals. Virtanen was one of the most hyped up prospects of his draft class, and it seemed like a safe selection for Benning and co.

But three years after being drafted, and Virtanen’s NHL career has been marred with frustration and inconsistency. He’s played in a total of 65 NHL games (just 10 in 2016-17), scoring seven goals and 14 points.

Also alarming was his disappointing season with the Utica Comets, one in which Virtanen scored just nine goals and 19 points in 65 games. He was being called up and sent down throughout the season, and it led to some frustration for the 20-year-old.

Some may question Virtanen’s character, but you do have to see his point of view. The Canucks have not allowed him to play a full season yet, and former head coach Willie Desjardins became known for his questionable line juggling. He never put Virtanen in a good position that allowed him to be an impact player.

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But as Virtanen enters what could be his first full NHL season, he surely knows that he’s running out of time to show the Canucks he can be a key part of their future.

New coach, new start

Maybe Virtanen wasn’t big on Desjardins, but he gets a chance with new head coach Travis Green — who was essentially hired because of his ability to work with young kids. He’s the guy Benning wanted for this rebuilding stage.

Virtanen and Green will have a better working relationship — they did spend an entire season together in Utica, after all.

The Canucks figure to inject plenty of youth into their lineup. Bo Horvat could open up as the No. 1 centre, Brock Boeser should seek top-six minutes and golden prospect Olli Juolevi will get a chance to make the team.

Green will surely give Virtanen every chance to succeed from the get-go. Virtanen probably won’t get the top-six minutes, but hard work and determination should get him to move further up the depth chart as 2017-18 progresses.

2018: Last chance for Virtanen?

That said, how much longer can the Canucks be patient with Virtanen?

He’s not the only young player trying to make a name for himself. Besides Boeser and Horvat, the likes of Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, Markus Granlund and other prospects like Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette figure to play in the Canucks’ top-six in the near future.

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So it’s not as though the Canucks desperately need Virtanen to emerge. They have plenty of quality young players that can lead their future.

If Virtanen cannot morph into an impact player for the Canucks in 2017-18, they could just look to trade him and pull the plug on the project. With so many young forwards in the system, Virtanen would be expendable. It’s up to him to show he can be a vital piece of this rebuild.


It’s been over three years since the Canucks have drafted Jake Virtanen, and he hasn’t been an NHL regular yet. It’s definitely alarming, but sometimes the best of things take time.

The Canucks are getting impatient with Virtanen, who seemed to clash with Willie Desjardins and hasn’t received much confidence from the organization yet. Time’s running out for the kid to show his worth to this franchise.

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2017-18 will be the start of a new era for the Vancouver Canucks, and they can only hope that Jake Virtanen is ready to be a key piece of their long-term plans.