Will the Canucks expose Jake Virtanen in the Seattle expansion draft?

Apr 28 2021, 12:41 pm

A year ago, this would have been unthinkable.

The Vancouver Canucks are well set up for the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer. They’re allowed to protect seven forwards, with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, and Tanner Pearson being five obvious players to keep.

They can protect three defencemen, and Quinn Hughes isn’t even eligible for selection. Nate Schmidt and Tyler Myers are the obvious guys to protect on the back end. Olli Juolevi will probably be the third blueliner they protect.

They can protect only one goalie, and that’ll be Thatcher Demko. That means Braden Holtby will be exposed, but Seattle might not touch him given his $4.3 million cap hit, including $5.7 million in real dollars being paid out next year, not to mention his declining value as a player.

Twelve months ago, Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette would have been the last two natural choices to keep on forward, though Tyler Motte would have also been given consideration. Gaudette is gone now of course, and Virtanen might not be long for Vancouver, either.

That would have been hard to believe after Virtanen enjoyed a breakout season last year, with Canucks fans joyfully shotgunning beers after every one of his 18 goals. But that was then and this is now.

Virtanen’s name has been popping up in rumours all season. After scoring 36 points (18-18-36) in 69 games last season, the Abbotsford native is having a dreadful year. The former first-round pick has just four goals and no assists in 36 games this season. Prior to the season, prevailing wisdom was that with Tyler Toffoli gone to Montreal, Virtanen would be given a long look on the team’s second line.

That hasn’t materialized.

Virtanen’s minutes are actually down this year (12:17) compared to last season (13:05). He’s shooting the puck less, too, averaging 1.4 shots per game this year, compared to 2.2 shots per game last season.

Given that he turns 25 this summer and is due to make $3.4 million next season (though his cap hit will only be $2.55 million), at this point there’s a case to be made for the Canucks to be happy to shed his contract.

That’s exactly the thinking behind The Athletic’s latest mock expansion draft conducted by Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal, that has the Canucks protecting Motte and prospect Kole Lind instead of Virtanen.

Lind could make his NHL debut with the Canucks down the stretch. The 22-year-old winger, drafted by Vancouver 33rd overall in the 2017 draft, tallied 44 points (14-30-44) in 61 games with the Utica Comets last season. This year, he has eight points (5-3-8) in eight AHL games.

Motte, meanwhile, has proven to be an effective penalty killer and energy player in the team’s bottom six.

Virtanen, meanwhile, is an expensive third or fourth liner at this point.

Perhaps the Canucks can move Virtanen in a trade this offseason, but they might have to retain salary or take a bad contract back. His contract could be bought out as well, with only a $50,000 cap hit affecting the Canucks in 2021-22 and $500,000 in 2022-23, according to CapFriendly.

Of course, the Canucks could also bank on this being an off-year for Virtanen, and maybe he bounces back next season. But given the team’s precarious cap situation, that might not be a luxury the team can afford. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are in line for big raises this summer, and the team has a lot of work that needs to be done to its defence and bottom-six forward group if they want to improve.

Seattle Kraken expansion draft

Though they’ll have the option of protecting eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goalie, the Canucks are expected to choose to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie.

Canucks can protect seven of the following forwards:

  • Elias Pettersson
  • Brock Boeser
  • Bo Horvat
  • J.T. Miller
  • Tanner Pearson
  • Tyler Motte
  • Kole Lind
  • Jake Virtanen
  • Zack MacEwen
  • Matthew Highmore
  • Jayce Hawryluk
  • Jay Beagle
  • Antoine Roussel
  • Loui Eriksson
  • Jonah Gadjovich
  • Justin Bailey
  • Lukas Jasek
  • Petrus Palmu
  • Brandon Sutter (UFA)
  • Jimmy Vesey (UFA)
  • Travis Boyd (UFA)
  • Sven Baertschi (UFA)
  • Tyler Graovac (UFA)
  • Micheal Ferland (IR)

Canucks can protect three of the following defencemen:

  • Nate Schmidt
  • Tyler Myers
  • Olli Juolevi
  • Madison Bowey
  • Guillaume Brisebois
  • Alex Edler (UFA)
  • Travis Hamonic (UFA)
  • Brogan Rafferty (UFA)
  • Ashton Sautner (UFA)
  • Josh Teves (UFA)
  • Jalen Chatfield (UFA)

Canucks can protect one of the following goalies:

  • Thatcher Demko
  • Braden Holtby
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