Position: RW/LW Current Team: Calgary Hitmen, WHL Date of Birth: August 17, 1996 Place of Birth: New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada Height: 6'1" Weight: 212 lbs Shoots: Right
Evaluating junior talent is always a challenging endeavor. Trying to predict teenage behavior in any setting is hard -- when you add the spotlight of professional sports to the mix, it becomes downright scary. How will the player mature? If he fills out, will he lose speed? Is there really more upside in his game? That's why precious few NHL draftees ever set foot on NHL ice, much less make an impact.
Jake Virtanen is one player who is poised to make an immediate impact at the NHL level. Sure, his defensive play can use some work, and his ability to leverage his line mates also needs development. However, few -- if any -- move from juniors to the Big Dance without something to learn. Consider that Virtanen brings elite skill -- 45 goals in 71 games -- and terrific speed -- he won both the forwards and backwards skating skills competitions at the 2014 Top Prospects game in Calgary. Combine those attributes with some attitude -- 100 penalty minutes in 71 games -- and you start seeing an intriguing package. Wrap all of that in a 6'1", 210 pound frame -- no "filling out" needed-- and you grab everyone's attention.
Virtanen is currently ranked #6 among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Rankings, and sits #10 in the ISS Rankings. He wore an "A" for Team Orr in the Top Prospects game, has a solid international resume, and seems to be a well-rounded prospect. The following pretty much sums up the consensus view:
"Jake has undeniable skill. Excellent skater who has speed, quickness and power. Can beat defenders with his skating and when he gets an advantage, his size makes it almost impossible for a defender to get back on equal footing. Very strong shot and can beat goaltenders from out but also has the quickness in his hands to score in tight. Has the potential to be a dynamic scoring winger." - --Craig Button -- TSN Director of Scouting
His level of compete is very good, so I think he is underrated in that department. He has the ability to shift gears and beat guys wide, so he has deceptive speed as well." -- B.J. MacDonald, NHL Central Scouting
A Good Fit in Columbus?
As with all of these prospects, Virtanen has an impressive package of skills that would unquestionably benefit the club. Although many sites list him with center as an alternate position, he is truly a winger, but can play either side with little adjustment. That's something to note.
More fundamentally, the fact that Virtanen can bring speed and skill in a man's body will undoubtedly attract the attention of Todd Richards and the front office. There will be no bulking up needed for this kid, and he does not shy away from contact. He needs to curb his enthusiasm at times, but that's a youth thing, not a Virtanen thing. He is a true power forward. If that isn't enough, he holds joint U.S./Finnish citizenship. Interested, Jarmo?
Virtanen has finished three years in junior, so he could be emotionally ready to make the jump. He's on the borderline in that regard, but everyone agrees he has elite talent. While his stock has risen, he is also one of a number of class wingers in this draft class, and some teams -- Edmonton foremost among them -- will have their front office staff hanged in effigy, or otherwise, if they draft another scoring winger. So, Virtanen could slide. All the way to 16? Unlikely. Stranger things have happened . . .