In a really nice article written during the offseason that I encourage readers to read, Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Courier takes a look at the Vancouver Canucks’ young forward Jake Virtanen and the likelihood of his having a breakout season. What makes this particular article so interesting is that Wagner (whose writing I’ve come to appreciate as I read what others write about the Canucks) takes a look at how power forwards develop and compares Virtanen to other power forwards who have played with the Canucks throughout the seasons. (from “How likely is a breakout season for Jake Virtanen?” by Daniel Wagner, Vancouver Courier, 07/19/19)
As it turns out, Wagner’s article nailed it. Virtanen is indeed having a breakout season. And, he’s beginning to play a power forward position. That he’s been so successful this season has helped the Canucks move toward a successful possibility because the player they signed during the offseason to play that role – Micheal Ferland – has been injured for most of the season. However, even with Ferland out, the Canucks haven’t missed a step. Thank you, Virtanen.
In fact, as the team heads into the All-Star break it suddenly finds itself sitting in first place of the Pacific Division – and, that’s a spot no one would have predicted at the beginning of the season.
Virtanen’s History with the Canucks
Virtanen is now 23 years old. He was the Canucks’ sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which excited Canucks fans because he’s a native of New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb. When a young player has a successful career close to his home, that’s perfection.
Still, until recently Canucks fans were worried they had wasted a draft choice. After four seasons of struggle, Virtanen hadn’t produced much at the NHL level. Virtanen’s career highs came last season with 15 goals and 25 points, but much more had been expected. This season, he’s showing some of that missing progress.
Reviewing Virtanen’s Season
At first, it looked as if Virtanen’s season would turn around. Against the Calgary Flames on September 16, Virtanen scored twice including the overtime winner. However, that success didn’t carry over into the regular season and Virtanen’s first two weeks were nothing to write home about. It took until October 22 before he finally scored a goal, which was only his third point in the team’s first nine games. He scored another goal in the October 25 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals. Still, the 23-year-old winger only had four points in 10 games.
On October 28, Virtanen began what has turned into a successful season when he scored a goal in a 7-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now had goals in three straight games, but what was better was that his goals mattered. He was scoring game-winners.
His goal in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 7 marked Virtanen’s fifth goal of the season – all scored in his last eight games. It was perhaps his best scoring streak in his career and it looked as if he might break last season’s career-high of 15 goals.
When December came, Virtanen got hot. In 15 games between November 27 to December 29, Virtanen scored in 10. In four of those games, he tallied multiple points. During December, he had scored 11 points in the team’s 13 games.
Virtanen’s Last Two Months
Since December 14th and 15th, when Virtanen scored in both games, head coach Travis Green has started to give the young winger more time on the power play. On December 15th he scored a power-play goal in a 6-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. On December 20th, Virtanen had two assists, one on the power-play. On December 21st, he scored a power-play goal in a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Finally, on December 28th, he scored two power-play points (a goal and an assist) in a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
He added a goal on December 29th against the Los Angeles Kings. Not only was Virtanen scoring, but the Canucks starting to win. It was the team’s fifth-straight victory.
During January, Virtanen hasn’t slowed down. In fact, he’s played so well that Green has moved him up the team’s pecking order (although probably not forever). During the team’s January 18th victory over the San Jose Sharks that leapfrogged the Canucks into first place in the Pacific Division, Virtanen assumed Brock Boeser’s place on the team’s top line. In fact, in CBS sports depth chart for January 19, he’s listed as the right-winger on Elias Pettersson’s line (with J.T. Miller at left-wing).
Virtanen Isn’t Forgetting His Physical Play
Although his scoring has increased, Virtanen hasn’t forgotten his physical play. In last week’s 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Virtanen delivered what he said was an accidental elbow to the Jet’s Mathieu Perreault that left Perreault incensed when the NHL disciplinary committee didn’t deliver any punishment to Virtanen.
That controversy didn’t slow Virtanen in the least. He’s continued to play well and now has 28 points (14 goals and 14 assists) in 49 games. He’s easily beaten last season’s career best of 25 points in 70 games.
What’s Virtanen’s Season Look Like Now?
This has been a breakout season for the young winger. With the season about two-thirds completed (49 games in an 82-game schedule), he’s become more than a third-line right-winger who averages about 12 minutes per game. In fact, since January 9th, Virtanen hasn’t played less than 14 minutes in any game. In all games prior to that date, he’d only played more than 14 minutes two times. Why the increased ice time? Because he gives the team secondary scoring and a physical presence on the ice.
Green has also increased Virtanen’s power-play time, which means he has a great chance to score even more points. As the Canucks work to make the playoffs after many seasons on the outside looking in, Virtanen will be a big part of the reason why. Then, during the NHL postseason, players who are both physical and can score goals often make a huge difference.
I’m thinking that’s the definition of this season’s Jake Virtanen.