Born: August 17, 1996 in New Westminster, BC
Pos: RW, Shoots: Right
Drafted 6th overall by Vancouver in 2014
It wasn't a shock when Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann broke camp with the Vancouver Canucks rather than with their respective junior hockey teams. But not many thought Virtanen or McCann would last beyond the World Junior Tournament through to the end of the season. Virtanen played 55 games with the Canucks this year, in what amounts to a tale of two seasons. Before the WJC, Virtanen seemed halting. After he returned from Finland, however, Virtanen looked quite good, proving Jim Benning right in deciding to keep the kid in Vancouver. As the numbers show, after the All-Star Game, Virtanen earned more ice time -- in part he benefited from Canuck injuries -- and responded by playing better, especially in March.
Jake By The Numbers
The fourth table is an attempt at a rate stat measuring the number of goals created by a team while a particular player is on the ice.
Since some Canucks fans continue to rue that Virtanen was selected over Nikolaj Ehlers or William Nylander, I decided to include the rate stats for all three below. Since Ehlers played almost a full season with Winnipeg, Virtanen played 55 games, and Nylander played only 25, it seemed fairer to compare rates rather than raw numbers.
Clearly, each player is very young and very far from full development. Also, I admit comparing Nylander, who played for Toronto during late-season garbage time, to the other two players is a little unfair. The point of this comparison is just to show that Virtanen looks pretty good compared to Ehlers, especially when you consider, using LeftWingLock's line combination data, Ehlers spent nearly half of his shifts playing on an offensive line with Mark Schiefle. Virtanen played with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi more than a quarter of the time, followed by Brandon Sutter and Alex Burrows and Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi. Ehlers' underlying numbers are better, as expected given his offensive deployment. Virtanen's numbers are still respectable.
What Did He Do?
Eliteprospects.com is emphatic about the kind of player Jake Virtanen could be -- an imposing prototypical power forward. Hockey's Future said:
Virtanen is a complete power forward. He shoots the puck hard and is strong along the boards. His key asset is his great acceleration and speed. Virtanen moves well laterally without gearing down. He can be relied upon in all situations and has a heavy physical presence to his game.
Jake's first game at the Young Star's Tournament in Penticton, BC announced to Canucks fans the kind of exciting player he could be:
He started the regular season timidly, trying to find his rhythm as an NHL player. There were scrapbook moments, like his first goal, from an impressive rush down the wing:
His first fight:
In December, he headed to Finland, both to play in the premier tournament for players his age and to reconnect with his Finnish roots. Both Virtanen and Team Canada did poorly, and Vancouver's voice from the bottom of every local birdcage, The Province, took a gutless, unfair shot at the kid, shown in this photo from Jason Brough's twitter feed:
Good morning, Vancouver. pic.twitter.com/bDNOJWtuNl— Jason Brough (@JasonPHT) January 3, 2016
Many people thought Virtanen would go back to junior after the disappointing performance in Finland. He stayed in Vancouver, and that seems to have been the right choice. His physical game is NHL-ready. He is better served learning what he needs to know to improve by playing against NHL-level competition. He had no need to step back and play against boys in junior hockey.
In April, he learned blind-side hits will get you suspended in today's NHL. Virtanen was dinged two games for this hit on San Jose's Roman Polak:
To his teammates' credit, they did not excuse him or the hit.
In year two, he'll have to work hard to build on 2015-16. With Brandon Sutter back, he'll have a veteran center to work with, barring a miracle where Vancouver wins the lottery and can add Auston Matthews. Virtanen's future doesn't seem to be on the wing with the Sedins, and Jared McCann seems destined to do an AHL apprenticeship before he finally makes a jump to full time duty with the Canucks. Or, if Bo Horvat can consolidate the lessons learned during a tough sophomore season and become a second-line center, Virtanen will line up beside him next season as well.
Power forwards like Virtanen are difficult to develop to their full potential. If he can be developed properly, however, he'll be one of the most valuable kinds of players a team can have -- a physically dominant player with a deft scoring touch.
Jake Virtanen is an imposing power forward in the truest sense. Possesses a non-stopping motor and creates an abundance of on-ice energy when throwing his weight around and establishing his physical presence. Exhibits world-class skating ability, and can blow by defenders just as easily as he can go through them. Stands up for his teammates and never backs down from a challenge. Displays a wicked, NHL-level release that challenges goaltenders of all skill levels. Becoming a recognizable asset when playing a more defensive role as well. All-in-all, a physical power forward that has the character traits, work ethic, and individual skills to pose a threat to whoever stands in his way. - See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=120197#sthash.mnY7oGb4.Early in the season, Virtanen seemed slightly adrift, not uncommon for 19 year olds in the NHL.He joined Team Canada in Finland for the World Championships in December, both to play as a leader on Canada's premier junior team and to connect to Virtanen's Finnish root