Name: Jake Virtanen
Postion: Left Wing
Weight: 208 lbs
Born: August 17, 1996 in New Westminster, BC
Ignoring the hometown connection and the fact he conveniently is ranked sixth in the North American skaters prospect pool, we went with Virtanen because (a) he comes with the power forward label and (b) the farm is thin at quality LW'ers once you look past Hunter Shinkaruk. Virtanen is a big guy who can skate hard, fight (some would argue a bit too willingly) and score: his 45 goals led the Calgary Hitmen and makes him the second highest goal scorer for all first-year draft-eligible CHL players behind Nikolaj Ehlers (49 goals). Assuming Shinkaruk and Virtanen both develop into top six assets, Vancouver should have ample offensive skill down the left side to join their new crop of centers (Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce) and flanked on RW by the likes of Zack Kassian and Nicklas Jensen. Sprinkle in some veteran support, smarts trades and puck luck and, voila, a Stanley Cup. Duh.
The one glaring problem with Virtanen is his recent shoulder surgery that forced him out of the Combine and the concern that ramifications from the injury linger past his next junior season. However, the surgery being largely routine and the fact he's not projected to be competing at the NHL level for at least another season or two mutes those concerns on our end.
(Note: The Canucks are thinner at the RW position which is why many are eyeing Swedish product and #2 ranked in the European skater pool William Nylander as the better selection, however our view is his frame is all wrong for the type of building block that will make Vancouver competitive in the Pacific down the line. We have plenty of smaller, crafty prospects, but at #6 there's a chance to snag a bluechipper. The next best bet on the North America skater side for RW would be Alex Tuch who is slotted to go in the middle of the first round, so we ditched RW and focused on the best player on the board.)
Back to Virtanan, the key bullet points:
• Virtanen wrapped up his second full Western Hockey League season in 2013-14 with a team-best 45 goals, fifth most in the League. He ranked third on Calgary with 71 points and earned the Calgary Hitmen Three Star Award.
• He won gold with Canada at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial and bronze at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship in Finland, tying for the team lead with 3-3—6 in seven games. He was also a member of Team Pacific at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, registering 5-2—7 in five games.
• Virtanen had the highest overall grade from the on-ice testing that was performed at the CHL Top Prospects Game, placing first in the 30-meter forward sprint (3.92 seconds) and the 30-meter backward sprint (4.55 seconds).
• A power forward who models his game after Rick Nash of the New York Rangers: "We're kind of identical players. He likes to take the puck to the net. I think I'm a little more physical than that, I like to throw the body around."
Via the NHL Profile Scouting Report:
"He's got a complete, all-around pro game right now. He's tough to play against, makes things happen on the ice. When you're out there with him, better have your head up because he could put you through the wall. He's got that package of high-end skill that doesn't come along too often; he's like a Jarome Iginla type of player who can do everything."
• Speed – Big man speed with acceleration, agility, balance. Won the 30 metre sprint, backward and forward, at the CHL Top Prospects game.
• Shot – Big gun, quick finger, hits target, penetrates net.
• Power forward – Jake Virtanen has the size, skating, drive and physicality teams look for in a power forward – Jake is probably the purest power forward in the draft.
• Improvements to make – Judging by his performance in January (13 goals and 20 points in 14 games), Jake has already come a long way. However, he should continue to work on using his teammates better, push for excellence in his defensive work and exert his physicality on a constant basis to win puck battles.
• Draft placement – Most have Jake at or around the top 10 now but if he continues to produce at or improve upon his January pace he could go significantly higher because his size and physical skills are as elite as just about anyone in the draft.
"His level of compete is very good, so I think he is underrated in that department. He has the ability to shift gears and beat guys wide, so he has deceptive speed as well."
Via McKeens Hockey:
.. sensational ability to create time and space for himself with deceiving change of pace and bursts of acceleration .. seems to do more with his skating ability .. despite quick hands his effectiveness is diminished by his passing efficiency and play selection .. very reactive player that doesn’t seem to anticipate the game, rather responds to it .. hockey sense routinely comes into question .. wicked release and can shoot on the fly without breaking stride .. at his best when he intimidates with his speed, driving defenders on their heels and engaging in 1 on 1 situations .. still needs to adopt better structure, playing a scattered game while gravitating to and over-fixating on the puck .. improved this year defensively playing with more determination, blocking shots and being involved physically .. Virtanen has the size and skating ability to satisfy a role in the NHL however he will infuriate top players as he does not always distribute the puck in a timely manner.
Jake has undeniable skill. Excellent skater who has speed, quickness and power. Can beat defenders with his skating and when he gets an advantage, his size makes it almost impossible for a defender to get back on equal footing. Very strong shot and can beat goaltenders from out but also has the quickness in his hands to score in tight. Has the potential to be a dynamic scoring winger.
You grew up a Canuck fan and attended some of their games at Rogers Arena. What was the experience like being interviewed by them?
I thought it was pretty cool. They had a pretty big group at the interview, including Trevor Linden and Mr. Benning. They talked to me for about 20-25 minutes. No, I didn’t feel intimidated by the situation. I felt pretty comfortable actually. I think growing up watching them made it feel that way. They were nice to talk to so it was good.
Followers of the Canucks have complained they haven’t drafted enough B.C. kids, enough WHL kids and enough pure goal scorers. You seem to tick off all those boxes. How would you feel if they selected you on June 27?
It would be pretty cool, obviously, to play in front of my family and friends. They could come and watch and it would be amazing. There is a good atmosphere at the games in Vancouver and they have some pretty great fans so I think it would be great for me to play there. Obviously it’s getting closer to the draft now and it’s getting really exciting. I guess I’ll just see what happens when I get there. But, I mean, I’ll be happy to be drafted by any team.
On to the all important highlight reel:
What say you NM'ers? Would Virtanen be a good addition to the farm or is there another player out there who's better suited for our collection love and affection?