Without a doubt, Vancouver Canucks power forward, Jake Virtanen has never looked better than he does right now. Playing top-line minutes, are the Canucks showcasing his talents and testing his trade value?
Like many successful NHL power forwards before him, Jake Virtanen has been something of a long term project for the Vancouver Canucks organization. Finally now at the age of 23, the player known in Van-City as “Shotgun Jake” looks to be smoothly turning the corner and becoming the very valuable power forward he was once envisioned to be.
Jim Benning’s first selection as the big boss in Vancouver and he selects the local kid at number six overall. Fast forward six seasons, now it’s time for Benning to get full value out of his very first selection, one way or another.
It was only about half a year ago in Vancouver when some people started to think Virtanen’s time in beautiful BC was coming to an end. Head coach Travis Green’s patience grew thin with his prospect in the second half of the season. Virtanen appeared to be blowing up statistically, but actually that blew up in his face down the stretch. Lack of consistency was the main source, a major issue in his development and he wound up buried in the bottom six, choking on what looked like a promising season. Would he ever figure things out?
Jim Benning, unhappy with the team’s place in the standings at season’s end you would think, took to his offseason to think long and hard about Virtanen and his future as a Canuck. He needed to find value in his selection somehow.
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Next thing you know, Benning goes public in search of top-six help — the team general manager inked veteran net crasher, Micheal Ferland to a four-year deal worth an annual value of $3.5 million dollars. A player that fit the role Virtanen had been failing to fill. Virtanen’s days in Vancouver definitely begin feeling numbered.
We all know what happened next. Ferland was brought in as the veteran that was either going to teach Virtanen everything he knew, or he was going to outplay Virtanen and take his spot in the lineup. Management saw this as his last chance to prove himself, either figure it out or get traded for something more useful.
Neither of those things actually occurred, Ferland has missed the majority of the season with concussion issues and Virtanen used the time to grow into a valuable power forward without his veteran guidance and friendly competition for playing time. Was Ferland’s signing in Vancouver enough to spook No. 18 and ultimately kick Virtanen in gear? Whatever the case may be, for this season it’s worked so far and now management needs to figure out what Virtanen means to this hockey club long term.
If you ask the majority of Canucks fans, I think they’d agree with me. Virtanen has never been more valuable to this franchise, but the question still remains the same, “Can Virtanen be a consistent top-six forward?”
So far this season his point production is looking a shade better than last year, the kicker is, Vancouver is waiting for Virtanen to lose scoring consistency and spiral out of control like several years before him. But maybe, Virtanen has finally reached the ripe age of a true power forward. Maybe this year he finally figures things out. Maybe this is Virtanen entering his prime years.
The truth is, he isn’t going to get a better chance for Vancouver than he is right now. This is it for Virtanen, it’s his final chance. If he wants to play for his hometown team, this is it. He has been given a handful of games on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. So far, so good for, Big Tuna. He has made himself known physically and statistically while given the opportunity to do so, but can he do it long term?
With Ferland hopefully returning sometime after the All-Star break, Virtanen will get a long hard look on the top line. If Ferland can get a string of games played before the trade deadline and look good, who knows what management is planning? It’s up to Virtanen to prove he belongs here. His next handful of games might be the most critical of his playing career thus far. He needs to buckle down, score 20, make a difference, be physical and stand up for his star players. This is his final test. The fate of Virtanen is in his own hands.