Vancouver is going to love Jake Virtanen.
He’s fast, he’s got a good shot and he LOVES to hit. If he fulfills his potential, he will be unlike any player we have ever seen in a Canucks jersey.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) September 16, 2015
Virtanen brings everything Canucks management wanted Zack Kassian to deliver. Now the only question is if he’s ready.
Is Virtanen ready for prime time? If his play at Young Stars is any indication, the answer is yes.
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) September 16, 2015
Virtanen certainly created a buzz with his play Penticton.
It started with a huge hit on Connor McDavid.
Virtanen says hi to McDavid. pic.twitter.com/DuMNh3lNrO
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) September 12, 2015
And it ended with a breakaway goal in overtime.
His display of speed and power was impressive, but it’s one thing to do it at Young Stars, it’s another to do it in the NHL.
Like Bo Horvat last year, Virtanen is not eligible to play in the AHL this year so it’s NHL or bust for the 19-year-old power forward.
Virtanen played in ten games with the Utica Comets last season during their run to the Calder Cup Finals, so he has experience playing against men. The Abbotsford product didn’t look out of place in the AHL, showing that his power game could translate to the pros. Unfortunately, his goal scoring game didn’t translate to the AHL (he had no goals and one assist, albeit in a small sample size). So proceed with caution.
The Canucks will want Virtanen, a 6th overall draft pick in 2014, to develop properly and the best place for that might well be in Vancouver. Virtanen has arrived to training camp in great shape this year, shedding 15 pounds in the offseason. He’s still a teenager, but Virtanen’s speed, size and strength suggests to me that he has outgrown junior.
Virtanen’s cause will be helped by the fact there is an open forward spot to be won this season. The Canucks will likely open the season with 7 defencemen and 14 forwards, but only 13 forward spots are currently spoken for when you include Sven Baertschi and Ronalds Kenins. Virtanen will likely have the inside track for that spot, competing with the likes of Brendan Gaunce, Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, Nicklas Jensen and Alex Grenier.
Given the Canucks’ depth at forward, Virtanen should get an opportunity to play with capable players and receive a reasonable amount of ice time, even if he is on the fourth line.
If he can hang with the big boys in preseason, Virtanen will be a Vancouver Canuck this season. Until then, he’ll be under the microscope.