Vancouver Canucks: Opportunity and confidence for Jake Virtanen

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 31: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice during their NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rogers Arena March 31, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 31: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice during their NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rogers Arena March 31, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /
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Jake Virtanen has been one of the most talked about players in the Canucks organization over the past few years. His explosive skating and powerful wrist shot should generate plenty of goals for the 21 year old, I’m going to explore his 2017-18 season and try to project what we can hope for next year.

We are almost two years removed from when Jake Virtanen‘s face was placed on the cover of a Provincial newspaper as he was being slammed for his terrible performance at the World Junior Championships.

The hype surrounding Virtanen has died down quite a but over the past couple years. Many Vancouver Canucks fans are beginning to believe that he will be a bottom six player for the entirety of his career. I believe that there is more to come from Jake and it’s time to break down why.

It’s been a hard few years for the Canucks. When you are picking a winger as high as six in the entry draft you would hope to be picking a future asset for your top six forward group. Virtanen was described by many scouts to be that top six player. He had size, skill, speed and a shot. He had the four S’s, but still scouts said there was a fifth “S” that Virtanen was missing, smarts.

"“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"

"“While he does have the ability to take over a game with his size, speed and impressive offensive acumen, he occasionally gets over-aggressive with his physicality and takes penalties at the wrong time. (In fact in one game) He took 19 minutes in penalties in the first period and came back to score twice in the second period to win the game. –Ryan Pike, TheHockeyWriters.com"

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Canucks fans have all seem the glimpses of greatness out of Virtanen and things have not changed much. However, he still has the potential to be a dynamic scoring winger as Craig Button said in 2014.

Think back to the Detroit game on October 22nd when Jake played one of his best complete games as an NHL player, he laid out Niklas Kronwall and scored a great goal when he was on a two on one with Daniel Sedin.

Virtanen came back in the very next game and had the game winning goal against the Minnesota Wild, a goal where he was rewarded by going hard to the net.

It’s amazing to see Virtanen when he is playing his best, he’s very tough to knock off his feet, he can flat out fly when he gets a couple strides going and has quick release on his wrist shot. The biggest problem is consistency, but is it really such a problem for a 21 year old kid?

The need for opportunity

The answer is no, its not a big problem.

Over the past three seasons, the Canucks’ direction shows there is no need to rely on that former sixth overall pick. Moving forward, the Canucks have placed Virtanen in a bottom six forward role. Aside from a small run with the Sedins, Virtanen spent little time in the top six. Not given any powerplay time and saw a few three-on-three overtime shifts very late in the season.

Furthermore, his confidence would develop if Virtanen were put into a spot to succeed. Opportunities with more skilled players and using his speed in overtime. This past season Virtanen came into camp in great shape. He lost the weight that was asked by the organization and it showed, being one of the best players in the preseason for Vancouver.

The thing about his game is that it should not hide in the background.  Virtanen can hit with the best of them and skate too. Those two attributes could make him a tough player to play against night after night.

How things should change

Last season Virtanen only scored 10 goals. Five were wrist shots from the circles, two were rebounds that he put away, one was a two on one, one was on a breakaway and the last one was an empty netter. 50% Of Virtanen’s goals were from wrist shots in space, that’s an interesting stat as many fans are calling for Virtanen to get more hits and drive the net more often.

I am currently just calling for some opportunities. I’m not trying to say he should be playing above Boeser (that’s ludicrous), but I do believe that some second unit powerplay time would be a start.

If I was coaching this team I would probably have Virtanen out to start every overtime period due to his speed. His game definitely took a jump with new coach Travis Green and I would expect another jump as he moves into his fourth season as a professional player.

One day were all going to be very happy with Jake Virtanen. It’s going to be the day he scores his 18th goal of the season, a champagne goal to match his Jersey number. Imagine Jake Virtanen with an 18 goal season, if there’s a goal that I wanna see next year it’s 18 for #18.

Next: Vancouver Canucks: Todd Bertuzzi discusses Jake Virtanen’s game

Those contributions on offence as well as providing a physical presence on the ice and skating circles around the opponents will make any fan smile. He shows up like that and we’ve got a winner with the sixth overall reach to grab the local boy! He’s paid for all the tools. Now, he justs need to use them.