Jake Virtanen scored a career-high 18 goals in 69 games last season. Can he eventually grow into a 30-goal scorer?
The 6-foot-1, 226-pound winger is still developing his game at the professional level, but he’s made nice progress over the last two years.
In 2018-19, Virtanen tallied 15 goals and 25 points (both career bests) in 70 games. He followed it up with his best season yet in 2019-20: 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games — helping Vancouver end a five-year playoff drought.
The overall improvement in his play earned Virtanen a two-year extension worth $5.1 million earlier in the offseason. The deal gives the 24-year-old another another chance to increase his value on his next contract.
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Virtanen has only averaged 12:49 of ice time per game in his NHL career (13:05 last season). But with veteran forward Tyler Toffoli leaving for the Montreal Canadiens in free agency, Virtanen can expect a role in the top-six.
Virtanen will struggle to top his career year in 2020-21, since the regular season is going to be considerably less than 82 games (48, 56 or 60-something games?) But is it possible that an increased role will help him grow into a 30-goal scorer down the road?
The easy answer is no, since he’s yet to even hit the 20-goal mark — six years after being drafted. But what if he got a look on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, who tallied a career-high 72 points playing alongside No. 40 last season?
Virtanen displays a strong skill set that could hopefully help him reach that 30-goal mark.
Along with his toughness and physicality, Virtanen displays a phenomenal set of wheels to go with his slick shot. Put him on a line with a world-class playmaker in Pettersson and a proven and productive veteran like Miller, and we could possibly see Virtanen grow into a top-line winger.
Many of the NHL’s elite centres tend to turn their wingers into 25-30 goal scorers, after all.
It’s more likely that head coach Travis Green will play Virtanen on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, however, with Brock Boeser moving back to the top line following Toffoli’s departure.
Virtanen hasn’t fully earned the trust or confidence of his coach, and until/unless that happens, I’m just not seeing a scenario where Green will push No. 18 to the top line — at least any time soon.
So unless Virtanen plays his way onto the top line, I feel like 20 to 25 goals is a more realistic target, at least for now. But I wouldn’t fully rule out the possibility of him one day hitting the 30-goal mark, especially if he continues to refine his skill set.
But the bottom line is that we probably haven’t seen the best of Virtanen yet. At least, that’s what the Canucks are hoping.