Canucks: Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen have been key in first half

If the Vancouver Canucks nab a playoff spot in 2019-20, it will be thanks to the secondary scoring — something they’ve lacked for years.

The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the NHL’s most pleasant surprises during the first half of the season, and there are plenty of reasons why.

J.T. Miller has solidified a legitimate and fearful top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Jacob Markstrom has found a way to improve even more after a career year. Rookie sensation Quinn Hughes is anchoring a blue line that has lacked offensive production for several years.

Overall, the defensive play has been much better — and the Canucks are receiving much stronger play from the bottom-six. Those have all been major factors in Vancouver’s success this year, but let’s not overlook the two unsung heroes of the first half.

Those would be wingers Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen, who are supplying Vancouver with the much-needed secondary scoring that they didn’t have for most of the 2010s.

General manager Jim Benning was somehow able to dump Erik Gudbranson‘s contract to the Pittsburgh Penguins at least year’s deadline in exchange for Pearson, a capable top-six forward with one 24-goal and four 15-plus goal seasons on his resume.

Pearson shined in a brief 19-game stint with the Canucks last season, recording nine goals and 12 points in just 19 games. Through the first 42 contests of 2019-20, he’s up to 12 goals and 30 points. Career-highs for both are within reach.

Virtanen, meanwhile, is poised to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career after spending a half-decade in frustrating and gradual development. He’s just two points away from surpassing last year’s career-high of 25.

“Big Jake” has 12 goals and 24 points on the season, and little more puck luck has been key during his breakout year. Virtanen boasts a 14.6 shooting percentage this season, significantly better than the 9.3 percent he’s recorded for his career.

Virtanen and Pearson, by the way, have combined for six game-winning goals this season (the former has four of them). Not only are they enjoying career numbers, but the two are coming through in crunch time when Vancouver needs them most.

The Canucks simply didn’t have enough scoring outside of the Sedin twins and Bo Horvat for several years. Then Boeser arrived, followed by Pettersson and now Pearson, Virtanen and Hughes.

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But Vancouver is in the playoff race thanks in large part to the emergence of both Pearson and Virtanen, who have rounded out a dangerous top-six. And if they continue to produce like this in the second half, the Canucks should have little problem in securing their first playoff berth in five years.

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