From fan favourite to the unemployment line.
If you were going to describe Jake Virtanen’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks in one sentence, that might be it.
The embattled winger is being bought out by the Canucks with one year remaining on his contract. Based on sexual misconduct allegations against him, his declining production, and the Canucks precarious cap situation, this was easily the least surprising move so far in Vancouver’s offseason.
With his Canucks career now over, here’s a look at some of the key moments which defined Virtanen’s rocky tenure in Vancouver.
Controversial draft choice (2014)
On the surface, picking Virtanen at sixth overall made a lot of sense. A budding power forward with a goal-scoring touch, the winger became the first local boy drafted by the Canucks in the first round since Cam Neely in 1983.
Despite the underlying feel-good story, there were some valid reasons why the Canucks shouldn’t pick Virtanen. Simply put, there were better players who had a bias against them because they were slight in stature. Those two main guys were Nikolaj Ehlers and William Nylander. Both have flourished in Winnipeg and Toronto respectively.
NHL debut at age 19 (2015)
Virtanen had a decent draft-plus-one season. He didn’t take a major step forward in the WHL, but he did win a gold medal in a depth role with Canada’s World Junior team. He also got a taste of AHL action, as he joined the Utica Comets for 10 games in the 2015 playoffs.
After posting two goals and two assists in six preseason games in 2015-16, Virtanen made the Canucks out of training camp, along with fellow rookies Jared McCann and Ben Hutton.
“Goat-medal winner” at World Juniors (2016)
During his rookie NHL season, the Canucks allowed Virtanen to join Team Canada for the 2016 World Juniors. The Abbotsford native was poised to take on a starring role as one of a handful of returning players from the gold-medal winning team in 2015.
However, Virtanen’s performance in the tournament was underwhelming. He had one assist in five games and took three penalties in a quarterfinal loss to Finland. Virtanen ended up on the cover of a local newspaper, with his picture alongside the controversial headline “Goat-medal winner.”
Weight issues put NHL dreams on pause (2016)
After posting a modest 13 points in 55 games as an NHL rookie, many expected Virtanen to amass more points during his second NHL season.
However, the only thing he really amassed was extra weight.
The local kid showed up to Canucks training camp in 2016 at a reported 231 pounds when he was told to show up at 213 pounds. That was the start of a forgettable season, which saw Virtanen post one measly assist in 10 NHL games. He spent most of the season in the AHL where he recorded an underwhelming 19 points in 65 games.
The “Shotgun Jake” phenomenon (2018)
Virtanen’s touch-and-go tenure in Vancouver began to project upwards over the next couple of seasons. He became a full-time NHLer (again) in 2017-18, posting 20 points in 75 games.
Prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, sports radio hosts Mike Halford and Jason Brough vowed to shotgun a beer in support of Virtanen every time he scored a goal. The mid-summer radio vow turned into an online sensation. When Virtanen scored on opening night against the Calgary Flames, fans flooded Twitter with videos of them shotgunning beer.
Different coach, same issues (2019)
The shotgun phenomenon certainly helped Virtanen work his way back into fan-favourite status, but there was another roadblock at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
At the beginning of training camp, Virtanen was scheduled to skate with a group that consisted solely of AHLers. Head coach Travis Green only told reporters that certain expectations were not met.
Virtanen was able to put this training camp fiasco behind him, going on to post a career-high 18 goals and 36 points in 68 games.
Bubble bust (2020)
Many fans were excited to see what a physically imposing player like Virtanen could do in the playoffs. However, much like Virtanen’s entire career in Vancouver, he underwhelmed relative to expectations.
Prior to the return to play, Virtanen got himself in hot water on a couple of occasions. There was one incident where he was filming himself while driving, and another where he was spotted at Celebrities nightclub.
When Virtanen returned to the mini-training camp prior to the playoffs, he once again underwhelmed. He was scratched for the opening game against Minnesota, and was largely a non-factor throughout 16 playoff games, where he had a pair of goals and one assist.
Virtanen struggles, Toffoli flourishes (2021)
In the 2020 offseason, the Canucks infamously let Tyler Toffoli walk as a free agent, and it backfired immediately.
He signed with a very reasonable $4.25 million cap hit with the Montreal Canadiens and helped the franchise make it to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.
Virtanen signed a two-year deal with a $2.55 million cap hit. It wasn’t unreasonable considering his breakout season in ’19-20, but it was a bad look for the Canucks as Virtanen struggled while Toffoli was one of the league leaders in goals scored.
Sexual misconduct allegations (2021)
On April 30, Virtanen was placed on leave by the Vancouver Canucks amidst disturbing sexual misconduct allegations that came to light. He hasn’t played a game since. Virtanen’s tumultuous tenure in Vancouver officially ended when the club announced they were buying out his contract on July 25.