Canucks need Virtanen to realize ‘what he’s capable of at his size and speed’

Cam Tucker
NBC Sports

Jake Virtanen’s bottom-line numbers in the AHL last season certainly stand out. Just not necessarily in a good way.

The Canucks’ 2014 first-round pick, sixth overall, had only nine goals and 19 points in 65 games with the Utica Comets, after he was sent down from Vancouver.

It’s underwhelming production for a player taken as high as he was in the first round and considering William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers and Nick Ritchie — all taken after Virtanen in the top 10 of that draft class — have each: a) played more NHL games than the 65 Virtanen has appeared in so far; b) scored more goals; and c) recorded more points.

Virtanen’s shot metrics, however, paint something of a different story about his year on the farm. Per Garret Hohl, co-founder of HockeyData, the Canucks prospect had a 60.1 per cent Corsi rating over a 15-game sample size.

From The Province:

Sixty is a really good number. That means 3 out of every 5 shot attempts at even strength were going towards the opposition’s net while Virtanen was on the ice for the Utica Comets in 2016-17.

In a season where he didn’t find the net often, that still shows he was making a positive offensive contribution. 

It fits with how things went for most of 2015-16, his professional debut. When he was with the Canucks (he missed a month mid-season with the Canadian World Juniors squad), he was the team’s best possession forward for a lot of the season.

The Canucks last season added prospect forwards Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin, while Brock Boeser made his NHL debut late in the year. This summer, they added Sam Gagner, Alexander Burmistrov and re-signed Anton Rodin. They still have three restricted free agents — Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce and Reid Boucher — to sign, as well.

The Canucks could use the size, speed and shooting ability Virtanen brings, but the recent additions mean there is internal competition up front to make the roster next season.

“But it’s getting him to understanding the details and what he’s capable of doing at his size and speed. It takes time. Some guys make the adjustment right away. Some guys take longer. We want to be patient because it’s hard to find power forwards,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told The Province.

Virtanen is a pending restricted free agent at the end of next season, when his entry-level deal comes to an end.

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