Since he played his first game for the Vancouver Canucks, hometown hero Jake Virtanen’s play can be summed up in one sentence. Disappointing with a few flashes here and there that keep you interested and help you picture the player he could one day be. You may even find yourself thinking, Once Virtanen’s brain catches up to his body this guy is going to be a superstar. But then you keep watching and Virtanen takes a reckless penalty or kills another rush by throwing the puck into the corner and you come back to reality.
Virtanen’s 2020 playoff run was no different than the rest of his career and it may have been the last straw. Many Virtanen-believers have often stuck to the thought that his game will be more valuable come playoff time as his big body will help wear down opponents.
Unfortunately, they failed to consider the fact that Virtanen doesn't use his body to wear down opponents, instead coasting throughout the game for long periods of time where he becomes invisible.
Virtanen’s Canucks journey has now reached a crossroads where the young player is now a restricted free agent. It can be easy to forget that Virtanen is just 24 years old as it feels like he has been in the big leagues forever.
Virtanen has received plenty of criticism for this playoff run. Even Jim Benning spoke out publicly saying he was expecting more from the Abbotsford native, but did possibly salvage his mediocre playoff performance with a huge Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues.
"I thought he worked and competed hard in the playoffs. He scored that big goal for us in Game 6. To be perfectly honest with you though, I was expecting more from Jake in the playoffs." - Jim Benning on Jake Virtanen #Canucks @Sportsnet650— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) September 8, 2020
His speed can still be a game breaking attribute and Virtanen does occasionally fill a physical role that the Canucks desperately lack. He dropped the gloves with Ryan Hartman in the play-in round against Minnesota and he can be that guy that provides a spark at times.
With all the criticism that Virtanen receives it can be easy to forget that he was on pace to score over 20 goals this year. This was a breakout season that people had been waiting for and Virtanen provided an important offensive punch from the bottom six.
However, this scoring died down in the playoffs as Virtanen managed just three points throughout 16 games. If Virtanen wants to take the next step he must be able to show up with more consistency and make some sort of an impact night after night.
Currently it doesn’t seem like Virtanen has enough desire to take that next step. Good players find a way to make an impact every game, even if it is just winning face-offs, drawing penalties, or forechecking hard. Virtanen’s ability to consistently make an impact is arguably his biggest weakness.
Without question the best moment from Virtanen during this playoff run was his huge goal in game five against the Blues. Travis Green moved Virtanen onto the top line to play with Elias Pettersson in an attempt to give the team some energy. The Canucks had lost two games in a row and had blown their 2-0 lead on the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Virtanen’s promotion changed the game’s momentum and put the Canucks in a position to close out the series in the next game. He picked up two points, a goal and an assist, and helped the Canucks erase a two goal deficit in this game.
Overall Grade: C-
When it comes down to it, Virtanen didn't show up when it mattered most. At this point of his career his game is far too inconsistent for him to be considered a legitimate top-six player and it’s unclear if he will ever make it there.
Virtanen still has value as a bottom-six player that can put the puck in the back of the net but he’s frustrating to watch as it feels like he is barely scratching the surface of his full potential.
If Virtanen does return next season, he will be expected to step up once again and produce even more. This is the crossroads where Virtanen must dedicate himself if he wishes to be a bigger player in this league. However, from what we have seen so far, it often seems like he is satisfied with where he is at and may never wish to do the little thing necessary to take that next step.