Jake Virtanen’s six years as a Vancouver Canuck were tumultuous, to say the least. The 26-year-old failed to live up to his status as the sixth overall pick of the 2014 Draft and oftentimes seemed to find himself in the doghouse for a number of reasons. However, that all paled in comparison to what transpired during the 2020-21 season.
During the 2020-21 campaign, Virtanen was placed on indefinite leave by the Canucks after reports came out regarding an alleged sexual assault said to have taken place back in 2017. Less than three months later, they chose to place him on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract, something that many believed had as much to do with his inconsistent play as it did the alleged assault.
Fast forward to this summer, Virtanen was found not guilty by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. As a result of that verdict, some NHL teams have reportedly expressed interest in signing the winger, with one of the main front runners reportedly being the Edmonton Oilers. Safe to say, many are questioning this potential move and for good reason.
Little Good Can Come From Signing Virtanen
Coming into the league, Virtanen was seen as a player with a ton of potential. He had several fantastic seasons with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League and was viewed as a power forward with a natural goal scoring ability. That description has failed to show itself at the NHL level, however.
Aside from a solid 2019-20 campaign in which he scored 18 goals and 36 points, Virtanen has never broken the 30-point barrier in his career. Not only has he failed to become a point producer, but he hasn’t rounded out his game either. He doesn’t kill penalties, and his defensive play at even strength leaves plenty to be desired. Aside from being a physical presence, he hasn’t brought much of anything to the table through his 317-game career. Of course, signing him would also be a major distraction for the Oilers heading into training camp as it would be a PR nightmare early on.
I’m not going to dive much into his legal situation. The court found him not guilty, but there are still many who believe he should not have the privilege of being back in the NHL at any point based on the allegation. Many will be upset with general manager Ken Holland and the rest of the organization if he were to bring him in, whether fair or not, and the move would be guaranteed to cause a media frenzy.
Oilers Have Bigger Needs to Address
Aside from the serious flack the Oilers would take from signing Virtanen, they simply have other needs that should be higher on their priority list, the first of which is signing Ryan McLeod. The 22-year-old remains a restricted free agent after an impressive 2021-22 rookie season, and on the depth chart projects to be their third line center in 2022-23. Getting a deal worked out for him is far more important than worrying about a Virtanen contract, especially given the fact that they have very little cap room to work with as it is.
After getting McLeod signed, the next area that could use an upgrade is the blue line. While it isn’t as bad as some are making it out to be, the Oilers could really use another legitimate top-four defenseman to help solidify it. Of course, easier said than done, but again, that is a bigger issue than worrying about an at-best bottom-six winger.
With players like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, as well as Zach Hyman and Devin Shore who can play the right side when needed, the Oilers aren’t a team hurting for right wingers. Dylan Holloway is another who is capable of playing any position up front, and is someone management should far prefer to give a shot in 2022-23 over Virtanen.
Virtanen Not Worth the Headache
As mentioned prior, I am not going to get into Virtanen’s case. Whether he should or shouldn’t be given another chance is something that many fans disagree on. Regardless of what your personal opinion is, it shouldn’t be difficult to see one way or another the major distraction signing him would be in the Oilers’ locker room. With the heavy expectations they already have placed on them, there is simply no need for Holland to go and sign this player. That said, it appears the Oilers are really considering this move. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen, but in this writer’s personal opinion there doesn’t appear to be a lot of reward in doing it.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.