Jake Virtanen certainly had his doubters entering the 2019-20 season.
Sometimes, it’s hard not to side with the Negative Nancy’s. The sixth overall pick amassed 59 points through his first 210 NHL games, and it appeared that he might top out as a third-line winger. Most of Canucks nation would remain convinced of that until proven otherwise.
Well, it looks like Virtanen has now proven otherwise.
Whether you believe in the player or not, there’s no arguing that the last 25 games has been his best and most consistent streak of hockey in the NHL.
Those 21 points during his last 25 games only begins to paint the picture. Here’s a closer look some of the numbers and reasons behind Virtanen’s rise.
1. Drawing More Penalties
It’s no secret that good players who have the puck on their stick tend to draw more penalties. Elias Pettersson is a perfect example of that.
Perhaps Virtanen has been spending some time studying his linemate because the Abbotsford native has drastically improved the rate in which he draws penalties.
In the two seasons prior to this, Virtanen drew 20 penalties in 145 games. This season, he’s drawn 11 penalties in 50 games. That total trails only Petterson (12) on the team.
2. Throwing Fewer Hits
Unless Virtanen revamps his game once again, let’s stop calling him a power forward. He’s done a better job of using his size to create scoring opportunities, but he’s not running around and bruising guys.
David Quadrelli echoed the same sentiment on Power of the Towel (a new Nucks Misconduct podcast, go check it out if you haven’t already).
The numbers also back up the fact that Virtanen is playing less physical than ever before. He’s registered 7.33 hits per-60 this season, by far the lowest total of his career. He set a career low last season with 9.89 hits per-60.
Moreover, the 23-year-old is also getting hit less as well. He’d taken at least 5 hits per-60 in each of his last four seasons, but that number has dropped down to 3.66 this year.
There’s likely a message to Jake from Travis Green here: Focus on your play with and without the puck, rather than focusing on taking the body.
3. Increased Shot Rate
To make one thing clear, Virtanen has been a high-volume shooter throughout his career. In each of his previous seasons, he’s been a top-five player on the Canucks in shots per-60.
This year however, he’s upped that even more, leading the Canucks with 9.2 shots per-60 minutes.
His shooting percentage of 13.7% is higher than his career average of 9.2%, but it’s not an unrealistic total. That percentage wouldn’t have cracked the top 50 among regular forwards last season.
4. Becoming a High-Event Player
For those who want to crown Jake as a great two-way player, you might want to take a seat. Hey, I asked respectfully, don’t make me ask again.
Green worked for years trying to turn Virtanen in a better defensive player. Although he’s come a long ways, the numbers point to a guy who’s still on the ice for a barrage of chances against.
On the flipside, Virtanen is playing an exciting style of hockey. He’s shattering his previous career-highs in Corsi-for, shots-for and most importantly, goals-for. Despite being on the ice for more shot attempts than coaches and fans would like to see, he’s still posting career highs across the board in Corsi-for %, Shots-for % and Goals-for %.
5. Making the Most of his Ice Time
Despite the noted improvement, Virtanen’s average ice time is still more two minutes less than it was last year, when he averaged 14:49 per game.
Only over the past seven games has Green given the young winger at least 14 minutes of ice time per night. Much of that has to do with him playing on the top line, but it’s clear that Green still wants to see Virtanen continue to make the most of his opportunity.
He’s done that in limited time with J.T. Miller and Pettersson, with six points in seven games following the promotion. What’s more impressive though, is the rate at which Virtanen has piled up even-strength points throughout the season.
Jake Virtanen has hit the 30 point mark, you say? pic.twitter.com/xdRClUdm1Q— Mr Booth (@MrBooth_7) January 28, 2020
His 2.4 points-per-60 is considered a first-line scoring rate, and he trails only Pettersson on the Canucks. That total is also in the top-50 league-wide, tied with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While his Individual Points Percentage of 95% suggests that he’s due for a slight regression, it’s still clear that Jake is turning the corner, and he’s being rewarded, both with his impressive stat line, and his promotion to the top line.
What awaits Virtanen next in the coming months is what Canucks fans have been waiting to see since he got drafted: a taste of suiting up in playoff games for his hometown team.