Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen may not get the chance to finish his long overdue breakout season.
The remainder of the 2019-20 NHL season is in limbo due to the coronavirus outbreak, and the Vancouver Canucks might not get the opportunity to end a five-year playoff drought.
Obviously, public health and safety are the primary worries here over professional sporting events. It’s still fair for hockey fans to sit back and wonder “what could have been,” especially if the 2019-20 season is canceled.
Out of all Vancouver players, 23-year-old forward Jake Virtanen might be playing the “what if” card the most. The No. 6 overall pick from 2014 was in the midst of a breakout year for the surprising Canucks, with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games.
Virtanen was going to hit 20 goals and 40 points (in what many considered a make-or-break year) for the first time in his career. Up to this point, Virtanen also recorded 28 blocked shots while dishing out 102 hits. This is despite Virtanen receiving a mere 13:05 of average ice time per game — less than the 14:49 he got last season.
If head coach Travis Green gave Virtanen more looks in the top-six — especially on the Bo Horvat line — he could have pushed hard for 25 to 30 goals. Why Loui Eriksson continued to play on line two in favor of Virtanen is beyond most of Canuck nation.
On the bright side, Green now know what he has in Virtanen: A capable top-six forward who can make up for his defensive miscues (Harman Dayal of The Athletic had an excellent breakdown on Virtanen’s defence, subscription required) with his great speed, shot, energy and willingness to get physical.
It would obviously be a huge disappointment for everybody if the rest of the 2019-20 NHL season was canceled (it’s hard to envision them going that route, however), but there would still be plenty of positives for the Canucks and their fans to reflect on.
And one of them includes the (unfinished) breakout year of Virtanen. No longer will he carry that “bust label.” He may never become the bonafide superstar that Vancouver envisioned six years ago when they drafted him, but Virtanen can still be a valuable piece of a team that is slowly getting closer to Stanley Cup contention.