Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen looks like the real deal

VANCOUVER, BC - April 3: Jake Virtanen
VANCOUVER, BC - April 3: Jake Virtanen /

Vancouver Canucks 2014 first-round pick Jake Virtanen didn’t score many goals in 2017-18, but the big winger finally flashed his skill set and looks poised for a breakout year next season.

The Vancouver Canucks promised fans that 2017-18 would be a rebuilding year, and they finally leaned more on the young players to carry the bulk of the workload — namely Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

Head coach Travis Green significantly cut back the ice time for now-retired forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who each played three less minutes per game compared to 2016-17. He also gave the twins the assignment of mentoring 2014 first-rounder Jake Virtanen.

The 21-year-old was expected to show more signs of maturity and development  under Green — his bench boss with the Utica Comets of the AHL last season. Virtanen simply didn’t earn the trust of former coach Willie Desjardins, and suited up for just 10 games in 2016-17.

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Indeed, Virtanen did show the world just what he can do. He can snipe. He can hit. He can fly up ice with the puck. He can win you games. Virtanen finally showed fans why the Canucks took him sixth-overall in 2014, while they chose to pass up on established stars in William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers.

Virtanen scored 10 goals and 20 points on the season, and that was with just 11:59 time on ice per game.

Now that he has the experience of playing with the Sedins, imagine what ‘JV18’ can do with Horvat, or perhaps Elias Pettersson as his centre next season.

Have a look at some of Virtanen’s best highlights from the season, and you can see why many believe he’s due for a breakout campaign in 2018-19.

Virtanen was drafted four years ago, but some players need longer time to develop, and there’s no more reasons for Canucks fans to be impatient with JV18. Horvat finally “broke out” in 2016-17 — four years after he was drafted. Patience is key for some of these players.

Green made the smart call in not rushing Virtanen. He did not get top-six minutes nor that much time on the power play. Green wanted JV18 to learn from the Sedins and show that he’s worthy of more opportunities next season. And Virtanen’s confidence couldn’t be any higher.

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“Three years have gone fast and I am NHL ready .I feel like the last 15 games I really proved to myself that I can play and be dominant,” he said, per Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. “I’m looking forward to camp and dominating right from the start. I want to be a guy where it doesn’t take a bunch of games for me to get into it. I want to be into it right away.”

As for Coach Green? He too feels great about the development of Virtanen, per Kuzma:

"He needs to become a better player than he is today, but we like the progression. He was better defensively at times. I just felt his confidence got higher as the year went on — not just to play physical — to play with the puck and take it to the net.If he didn’t have an option, he wasn’t just throwing pucks away in the offensive zone. He learned how to protect a puck, get his head up and make a play."

The Canucks will be relying heavily on their young players even more, with the Sedins now retired. Horvat, Boeser and Sven Baertschi will likely continue to anchor the top line, while Virtanen will see more ice time and power play opportunities.

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Virtanen looked like a player that was ultra motivated and determined to be a star in this league. His confidence and poise can no longer be questioned, and he looks primed to be a 20-goal, 40-point man in this league.