Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen has avoided arbitration and signed a two-year deal, the team revealed Thursday.
The history between the Canucks and Virtanen is a curious one and the signing did little to illuminate the situation. A two-year deal is a “prove yourself” contract and that’s what the 24-year-old will have to do.
Last season, Virtanen missed fitness targets at training camp and found himself lumped in with the minor leaguers. It was a wake-up call and it seemed to have worked, as he pushed through to the main roster and put up a career-high 36 points in the regular season.
Virtanen was drafted by Vancouver sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, just after Michael Dal Colle and just before Hadyn Fleury. It was one of the first picks for then-new general manager Jim Benning, who also traded away Ryan Kesler at that year’s draft.
It’s possible that Virtanen has been weighed down by impractical expectations and it’s definitely true that he’s been polarizing in his own way. His fitness was again an issue in the bubble in Edmonton, with head coach Travis Green making him a healthy scratch. It was just for one game, but it was enough to send a message.
Is Vancouver paying for potential with this deal? Of course.
“With him, it’s that consistency you’re looking for shift in and shift out,” Benning said via Sportsnet. “I think Jake’s come a long way these last couple of years. We’ve seen glimpses of what he can be. It can be frustrating. But I’ve just seen too many examples where if you’re not patient with those guys and move them on, he ends up being that power forward that scores 25 goals for somebody else.”
As Benning went on to detail, a lot has been put into Virtanen’s development and that’s part of what makes this deal – and the near future – so important. If he develops along the right path, it’s a big win for Benning and he starts to look like a pretty smart dude.
And if Virtanen finds himself a top-six forward, as he might now that Tyler Toffoli’s out of the mix, he could have a chance prove himself worth this contract and the higher dollar value that could come with the next one.
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