How Zack MacEwen’s Camp Impacts Jake Virtanen and the Vancouver Canucks

Jake Virtanen of the Vancouver Canucks

“Tuna just because you [expletive] up doesn’t mean you get to hit someone from behind, get the [expletive] going!” The captain’s words sent reverberations throughout Rogers Arena and the province, and Jake Virtanen, who enjoyed a breakout 2019-20 season with 36 points in 69 games, found himself at the center of speculation yet again. Zack MacEwen on the other hand is at the center of speculation for all the right reasons.

MacEwen’s strong camp impacts Jake Virtanen

It’s not breaking news that July hasn’t been kind to Jake Virtanen. First, he was put under blast for visiting a Vancouver nightclub. Then at training camp, it was revealed that his teammates were taking advantage of his poor defensive play. One such example was Chris Tanev (Yes, THAT Chris Tanev) walking around Jake Virtanen to score. You can see it for yourself at the 0:24 mark of this video.


Here’s what The Athletic‘s Harman Dayal had to say about Virtanen’s first scrimmage.

“There’s no need to start ringing alarm bells, but yes, Virtanen’s disappointing defensive play was one of the biggest things that stood out.”

With Bo Horvat calling him out as the exclamation point, this makes for the second poor training camp of the season for Jake Virtanen. How often can you say that?

Zack MacEwen’s Training Camp

On the other end of the spectrum is 24-year-old Zack MacEwen. The media and fans couldn’t heap enough praise unto the “Big Fella,” who has had a training camp to be admired.

Just look at this goal, where he creates a passing lane and opens himself up to receive a perfect pass.

And this one at the 1:40 mark. He does the same thing, opening himself up beautifully to receive a tape-to-tape feed from Elias Pettersson.

And he hasn’t been a lone star either. By all accounts, the line of Rousell – Gaudette – MacEwen has looked fantastic.

What MacEwen Brings to the Table

Throughout his professional career, the undrafted free agent signing has impressed as a physical player with an offensive edge. His 96 points and 156 penalty minutes in 155 AHL games attest to that. That’s translated well to the NHL for him, especially this past season. In 17 appearances during the 2019-20 season, MacEwen added five goals and six points to go along with 41 hits and 20 PIM. This, with an average TOI of 9:37 and zero powerplay time. He’s shown himself to be a player that’s able to make the most out of what he’s been given.

Standing in at 6’4 and 211 lbs, MacEwen is an imposing physical presence. While physically, Virtanen is no slouch either, he doesn’t use his physical gifts nearly as much as he should. As the Canucks will be playing against the Minnesota Wild and the likes of Marcus Foligno, Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway, the extra bit of physicality would be a welcome addition to the team.

Granted, Virtanen is by far the more established NHL player. With 279 NHL games under his belt already it wouldn’t be wise to put MacEwen and his quarter season’s experience ahead of Virtanen on the depth chart already. As it stands though, things are not looking good for Shotgun Jake.

What this means for Jake Virtanen

Virtanen now finds himself practicing as the extra forward, alongside Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson, while MacEwen is getting a look riding shotgun with the captain.

That isn’t to say Virtanen will be a surefire healthy scratch once the games begin. It’s a very real possibility that both players end up making the team.

But his roster spot at this point is far from guaranteed. It seems increasingly likely that Virtanen will have to duke it out with Sutter and Eriksson for the 4th line RW spot. With Tyler Toffoli and Brock Boeser having a stranglehold on the top two right wing positions, Zack MacEwen is certainly making a case for himself as a legitimate third-line option.

However, what may be bad news for Virtanen is great news for the Vancouver Canucks. If MacEwen is able to successfully able to commandeer Virtanen’s spot on the third line, it provides the team with a realistic option to use Virtanen as a trade asset. With the flat salary cap, packaging Virtanen alongside a bad contract would do wonders for their cap structure.

The Future

So what does this mean for Virtanen? Everyone had him pencilled in at the third right wing spot, but with MacEwen blowing the doors off of training camp, Virtanen’s position on the team, let alone in the lineup, suddenly looks much more uncertain. As Travis Green said, what he wants from Virtanen is for him “to play his best.”

And that’s exactly what he’s going to have to do if he wants to be an option for this team moving forward.

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