Did everyone somehow forget that Jake Virtanen is by far the fastest skater on the Vancouver Canucks? Did fans forget the 15 goals he scored last year despite missing over ten games due to injury? The fact of the matter is, he has a lot of doubters still, meaning he needs to (and will) put it all together in 2019-20. The clock is ticking for him as his team attempts to take the next step and reach the playoffs. He’s only going to improve from here, and here’s why he’ll finally be able to put it all together this season, despite the rough start he had at training camp this past weekend.
For those that don’t know, Canucks training camp got underway in Victoria Friday morning, and as expected, head coach Travis Green was bag skating the life out of his players to get a gauge of who wants it the most, and who showed up to camp in the best shape. All the talk surrounding training camp was regarding Virtanen seemingly showing up out of shape, after he was put with the third group at Canucks training camp on Friday morning. That third group was made up almost entirely of AHLers and it was clear that coach Green was sending a strong message to his young player.
Failed to Reach Green’s Goals
As expected, people on Twitter began to panic when they saw a video of Virtanen stopping for water during one of many bag skates, doubled over at the bench, trying to get his legs under him. Canucks Army writer Chris Faber pointed out that he believed Virtanen to be the only player who stopped for water during the bag skates on Friday. That’s not a good look for him, a player whose conditioning has been questioned in the past already. This, along with him being put with the third group at training camp, quickly turned the young power forward into Friday’s top story.
Although he was moved back with the main two groups the next day of training camp, it was clear that Green was trying to send a message to a player he has shown tough love to in the past. It seemed to have worked, as Virtanen was working noticeably hard at everything, and I mean everything. He was driving the net hard as though he was in midseason form, and was skating as hard as anyone on the Canucks. It was good for him to show his heightened effort level off to his coach and teammates, after what can only be described as a less than ideal start to camp.
Time To Put It All Together
After speaking with Virtanen on Thursday at Rogers Arena, the feeling that he would have a breakout season in 2019-20 was heightened after he explained what he worked on this summer. He said that he worked a lot on driving the net hard with the speed that he possesses, and tight turns. He also said that he watches a lot of tape from past power forwards, and tries to model his game after the way they played. He also recognizes that his team’s goal is to make the playoffs and that like his team, he needs to take another step forward by reaching 20 goals for the first time in his career.
Luckily for him, it would appear as though he has exited his coach’s doghouse almost as quickly as he entered it. He will certainly be a big part of the Canucks’ team this year as they continue to build a top-nine forward group that can score. When attempting to construct three scoring lines, it’s useful to have players like Virtanen who can slot in almost anywhere in the lineup. Maybe a kick in the pants on the first day of camp was all he needed to really get going and get his season started out on the right foot.
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Scoring 20 goals is no easy task, and for a player who has received a lot of patience from Canucks’ management, it’s time for him to put it all together. Based on what he said on Thursday, Virtanen sounds confident in himself and in his abilities. Being able to maintain control of the puck while driving the net with his above-average speed will be a dangerous weapon for not only him but for the Canucks. Considering he scored 15 goals last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this is the year that he can finally put it all together.
Not Done Yet
He will still have eyes on him, and surely Green will be ready to dish out more tough love if he senses his player is becoming at all complacent. For now, however, the day one kick in the pants at training camp seems to have lit a fire under Virtanen. All eyes will be on him during the Canucks eight (one split-squad) preseason games, and it will be interesting to see who his linemates are and if his ability to drive the net hard has indeed improved. He still believes that he’s got what it takes to be an effective power forward in the NHL and now it’s time for him to put it all together and prove his doubters wrong.