More than a few young Vancouver Canucks’ players made big leaps forward in development, but according to Twitter, nobody did it better than Jake Virtanen.
With all the Vancouver Canucks players and basically the rest of the planet on lockdown mode right now, we at The Canuck Way got into a bit of a debate regarding who exactly was the most improved player of the 2019-20 campaign. It’s a fair question that received a handful of different answers that make it perfect for discussion. Looking back at the 69 games played to this point, and it really is a toss-up after all on which Canucks’ young gun made the most progress.
First off, who makes the shortlist? Four players come to mind when looking at overall strides in player development. Jake Virtanen earns a nomination as he was on the cusp of a 20-goal season. Adam Gaudette went from the Utica Comets best player to a staple on an energetic Canucks’ third line. Zack MacEwen played 17 games but found his physicality and willingness to drop the gloves very useful to Travis Green and Vancouver; a big year for Big Mac. Finally, Tanner Pearson shook off a rusty season playing for three teams, right back to a 50 point pace player riding on the wing of the team captain.
Each player definitely levelled up this season and each player built a strong case for The Canuck Way award. Our experts were torn on a final decision and ultimately turned to the lovely followers on Twitter to make the call. It was a 24-hour poll to decide the winner, here are the results.
A close decision in the polls, but “Shotgun Jake” himself comes out on top with the most votes. An impressive season to say the least for 18 and a shift in the right direction for all nominees. For a kid who started the year off huffing and puffing during coach Green’s dreaded bag skate on day one, and especially with the acquisition of Micheal Ferland (who plays a very similar style to Virtanen), you could have said his days in Vancouver were feeling numbered. But Virtanen sure came a heck of a long way this year in surprising everyone and finally proving to himself and everyone else that he can handle being a top-six forward in the NHL.
At this point, it feels more like people won’t get the chance to see Virtanen reach that 20-goal mark (at least not any time soon), but if this season showed us anything, it’s that Virtanen has appeared to enter the ripe age of elite most power forwards when they break out. With Jim Benning supplying the core of Vancouver with more playoff experienced guys and bigger body players like J.T. Miller, Virtanen should only see a rise in production whenever hockey does in fact return.
It appears management got it right with Virtanen this year. Nothing was going to be gifted to him. He had to earn everything he got, and he did. Bringing in Ferland was a nice scare-tactic that probably got him startled a bit at first. Miller was noticed on several occasions as well as being a bit of a role model for Jake. That personally, I think is a combination of perfection that got Virtanen to finally get his act together and become the player he is meant to be.
All-in-all, it was a big year for improvement for the team altogether. Playoffs or not, the Canucks made a big jump forward. And let’s face it, the Canucks goal was to reach the playoffs, and although that hasn’t happened yet, Vancouver still made a lot more positive moves in the right direction and that’s what matters most.
Every single one of these players deserves a pat on the back for their efforts this year. MacEwen found his game, Gaudette became an NHL regular, but at the end of the day, the people of Twitter spoke, and Virtanen walks away with the status of “Most Improved Player”.