Here at The Canuck Way, we’ll be recapping every player’s season — while handing out grades and examining expectations for next year.
The 22-year-old has been under pressure to perform since Travis Green (his former Utica Comets bench boss), was hired to replace Willie Desjardins as head coach after a frustrating 2016-17 season — where Virtanen only played 10 games.
Well, “Big Jake” did finish with career highs in goals (15), and points (25). He also dished out 154 hits and had 37 blocked shots, throwing his weight around and making some big-time plays at both ends of the ice.
Virtanen missed 12 games this season, having suffered a broken rib in February and thus derailing his chances of reaching the 20-goal mark. And so, fans will continue to sit back and hope for that breakout year.
Season grade: C+
He didn’t produce the 20 goals and 40-plus points that many had hoped for, but overall, Virtanen made more progress and is poised to be a key part of this team’s future success. For Virtanen, the breakout season will come if he can simply find some consistency.
Virtanen was goalless in 10 straight games from Nov. 15 to Dec. 4. And from Dec. 22 to March 9, he tallied just one goal over a 21-game span. And yet, Virtanen was still just five goals shy in reaching 20.
But numbers shouldn’t always tell the story. Virtanen’s work ethic was on notice throughout the season, and you can see his desire and hunger to get better every day. Coach Green remained patient with him throughout an up-and-down season.
So consider the inconsistency, injuries and low ice time (just 14:49 per game), it wasn’t at all a disappointing year for Virtanen. Rather, think about some of his highlight reel plays, his big shot and the physical element in his game that the team lacks. All in all, it was a very good — not great nor terrible — year for Big Jake.
Expectations for next season
Virtanen still has time to find his full potential and score 20-plus goals, but if he doesn’t hit the mark in the next two years, the Canucks will have to accept that he’s simply a useful bottom six forward. Nothing more.
But there is good reason to believe Virtanen will finally break out next year. More ice time and opportunities with Bo Horvat and/or Elias Pettersson should do wonders. Coach Green will hopefully cut back on the veterans’ ice time and give Virtanen more minutes in the top six and on the power play.
Virtanen is gradually getting better each year, and you can see his confidence level is high under coach Green. All in all, the former first round pick is coming together and should help this team push hard for a playoff spot next year.
Assuming he’s healthy — and if coach Green gives him more responsibilities — look for Virtanen to score around 25 goals and 40-50 points.