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Who’d you rather: Goldy or Jake?

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Both Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen bring different skills to the Canucks, but who’s a more integral part of this team?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Vancouver Canucks
Apr 5, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) and forward Nikolay Goldobin (77) celebrate forward Jake Virtanen (18) goal against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) (not pictured) during the third period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

From the kickoff of summer, two of the Canucks young, promising and inconsistent wingers were compared head-to-head.

It started when the Shotgun Jake movement was still in the womb, and TSN 1040 radio personality Jason Brough took a hard stance on preferring Jake Virtanen over Nikolay Goldobin.

Not one to back down from taking a hard line, The Athletic’s Jason Botchford went to bat for the enigmatic Russian, hyping him up at a time where many others were fed up with the inconsistencies.

Both Goldobin and Virtanen have had their moments this season. While Virtanen’s best moments are usually accompanied by chugging beer, Goldobin’s best moments aren’t always met with the same enthusiasm.

Here’s a look at how these 2014 first rounders have fared so far this season.

Analyzing Their Strengths

First off, we have to clear the air about one piece of ‘fake news’ making the rounds online.

Goldobin is not just a passenger on Elias Pettersson’s line. He helps drive the play as well.

Kudos to Darryl Keeping for manually tracking those stats, and all it does it help reiterate that Goldobin is playing the best hockey of his career at the moment.

Even though Goldy is starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone, he leads all regular Canucks forwards with a 52.45 Corsi percentage. Only Loui Eriksson (50.1%) is above the 50% plateau.

With Goldy and Uncle Loui being the only two Canucks forwards with a Corsi above 50%, maybe it’s not a coincidence that both players are also above 2.0 points-per-60 at even-strength. The only other Canucks above that margin is Pettersson.

Goldobin leads the Canucks in assists right now, which was overshadowed by criticism’s about him not scoring. He’s helped silence that slightly with two goals in his past four games, but he was still creating chances at a top-six level prior to that.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild
Nov 15, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin (77) shoots during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, Goldobin leads the Canucks in scoring-chances per-60 at even-strength. Even though it’s his passes that often get noticed, Goldobin has been creating chances better than any other Canuck.

One of the other Canucks who has excelled in this area, is Jake Virtanen. His 8.1 scoring chances per-60 rank behind only Goldobin and Eriksson.

Damn, should I be throwing Eriksson some love? Nah, there’s been too much of that already.

Virtanen is also in good company among the Canucks best goal scorers. He ranks behind Pettersson and Horvat for the team-lead in goals. Virtanen is also one of only three Canucks to average more than a goal-per-60 at even strength (1.1). The others are Boeser (1.01) and Pettersson (1.88).

During a season where Boeser has been marginalized by injury, Virtanen’s offensive outburst has been a nice surprise. He’s been working for his chances though, as he’s second on the team in shots behind Horvat, and second behind Boeser in shots-per-60 on the power play.

Despite spending the first half of his season playing alongside Brandon Sutter, Virtanen is now being rewarded by Travis Green (in part thanks to injury) with opportunities alongside Pettersson and Horvat. He’s making the most of his by doing what he does best: getting into good scoring sports, and shooting the puck.

On the flip side, Goldy has ben earning his spot in the top-six by shooting the puck AND creating chances better than most of his teammates.

Analyzing Their Weaknesses

Before getting into some of the numbers behind Goldobin and Virtanen’s deficiencies, I think it’s safe to say that the number one weakness for both players is consistency.

It’s a problem that plagues many young players as they learn the NHL game, and it certainly applies to both Goldobin and Virtanen. While the 2018-19 season has brought on the best stretch of consistency for both players, there are still moments where they disappear or worse, you notice them for all the wrong reasons.

After Virtanen started hot with three points in four games, he disappeared for a good chunk of the next eight contests. In those games, he had but one assist, and was playing an average of 12:54 per game.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver Canucks
Oct 31, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Derrick Pouliot (5) celebrates forward Jake Virtanen (18) goal against Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (50) (not pictured) during the first period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Since his two-goal performance in Chicago, however, Virtanen has played an average of 16:52 per game. While the best-case scenario is that Virtanen plays under 15 minutes, it is a good vote of confidence from the coaching staff.

Goldy has been inconsistent at times as well, but where both players could improve is in their own zone. Goldobin has a tendency to find himself out of position more than Virtanen, with evidence being the Wild’s fourth goal against the Canucks last week. His scoring chances against total isn’t as bad as most of his teammates, but his offensive zone start percentage is also highest on the team.

Credit to Virtanen though, who’s become a much better player in his own end. Compared to most Canucks, his 2.41 goals-against per-60 is better than most of his teammates.

Where he could improve is with the puck on his stick. Virtanen has never been much of a playmaker, but some of his wheeling with the puck in the offensive zone has led to mistakes.

The highlights don’t show it, but Virtanen and Hutton’s blunder led to Pittsburgh tying the game at 2-2 against the Canucks back in October. On that play, Virtanen skated the puck around the Pens zone, only to get crossed up at the blueline with Hutton. That led to Kessel feeding Hagelin for a goal on a 2-on-1 counter attack.

Who’d You Rather?

After watching both players, it should be clear that Goldobin is more gifted with the puck. That’s shown by both Green’s faith in him playing with Pettersson, and with the fact that he leads the Canucks in assists. His highlight-reel dangles are also best on the team behind Dekey Pete.

However, Virtanen pulls different moves to catch the viewers attention. His bull rushes, hits and powerful wrist shot are the traits that endears him to Canucks fans. That, and the fact that everyone is encouraged to chug beer when he scores. That helps too.

They both play a completely different style of game, which is what makes them so intriguing to compare. Both show flashes of greatness, and both are contributing to this young and flawed Canucks team being so exciting to watch.

However, one player has shown a higher ceiling over the other, and that player is Goldobin.

Virtanen might score 20, but overall Goldy has routinely flashed more potential to be a robust offensive player in the NHL. It isn’t just the Pettersson effect with Goldy, and the young Russian is beginning to establish himself as a useful NHL player. Not to say Virtanen isn’t, but at the moment Goldobin’s ceiling appears to be higher.

Now it’s your turn to take a stance. Be bold, be brave. If you had to choose between each of these wingers, which one would you want on your team?