Thursday, May 28, 2015
Authors Posts by Brian Huddle

Brian Huddle

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Former first overall pick in the 2011 WHL Draft, Jake Virtanen is likely my favourite non-center forward prospect within the Leafs range come the end of next month. While an imperfect prospect, the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Virtanen adds NHL-level tools for teams looking for goal-scoring ability. When asked to paint a picture of the Calgary Hitmen forward, ‘speed’ and ‘mean’ are front and center with the goal-scoring winger. He explodes into top speed with a quick first few strides, with an ability to beat defenders wide or burst into open scoring pockets. Utilizing his speed, he has a tendency to absolutely destroy opponents in open ice or on the forecheck when so inclined. What earns Virtanen his top prospect status, however, is his ability to score goals with a high-end release, evidenced in the 45 he scored in 71 games this past season, placing him among the WHL’s Top 10. However, as with almost all young players, there are question marks and weaknesses. While a strong and quick player, he isn’t a polished player away from the puck, and often adds little when the puck is not on his stick. He’s not one to consistently go into corners and grind in order to retrieve possession. He’s a rush-first player who is able to pick corners with absolute ease, but just how effectively will the offense translate at the next level? Shoulder surgery wiping out his draft combine, off-season training and start to next season may hurt his draft position. Virtanen played the end of the WHL regular season, the WHL playoffs, and the U18 World Championships (6 points in 7 games) with the injury. There’s both risk and ample upside here with one of the youngest players in the 2014 draft class.
– Brian Huddle

Further Reading: Edmonton Journal

Jake Virtanen Highlights


Jake Virtanen Statistics

SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM+/- Postseas.GPGATPPIM+/-
2010-11Abbotsford Hawks Bantam A1PCBHL596849117-|
Yale Secondary Lions BlueBCHSHL11120|
2011-12Fraser Valley BruinsBCMML39172239120|
Calgary HitmenWHL931443|Playoffs50004-4
2012-13Calgary HitmenWHL621618346725|Playoffs1524627-2
Canada Pacific U17WHC-1755278|
Calgary HitmenWHL7145267110023|Playoffs61344-2
Canada U18WJC-187336102|
Tournament Statistics
2011-12Team British ColumbiaWCCC-164505-|
BCMML Sabres 1U17 Cup-----|
Canada U18Hlinka Memorial50114-2|
Jake Virtanen is a heads-up player who thinks the game well and is willing to get his nose dirty. He has slick hands, a dynamic shot and a strong stride that makes him dangerous. He can be outright dominant at times offensively with his blend of size, skill and speed. (August 2013) - Elite Prospects
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Speed – Big man speed with acceleration, agility, balance. Won the 30 metre sprint, backward and forward, at the CHL Top Prospects game.

Shot – Big gun, quick finger, hits target, penetrates net.

Power forward – Jake Virtanen has the size, skating, drive and physicality teams look for in a power forward – Jake is probably the purest power forward in the draft.

Improvements to make – Judging by his performance in January (13 goals and 20 points in 14 games), Jake has already come a long way. However, he should continue to work on using his teammates better, push for excellence in his defensive work and exert his physicality on a constant basis to win puck battles.

Draft placement – Most have Jake at or around the top 10 now but if he continues to produce at or improve upon his January pace he could go significantly higher because his size and physical skills are as elite as just about anyone in the draft. - mynhldraft.com

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A big (6’2, 205lb) technical goaltender for the Allaire System, Sparks played 19 games this past season for the Guelph Storm. Posting a .890 Save Percentage in his first year in the O, Garret played a secondary role in which he showed a calm nature and good rebound control. He’s a project as all sixth rounders are but guys like Rynnas, Scrivens, etc. won’t be around forever with the Marlies; when they do move on, Sparks will hopefully be ready to jump from the OHL to the American League.

Sparks tweeted after his selection:

Dear Maple Leafs,

Thanks for turning my mom into a crying mess. And waking me up from my nap. But seriously, I don’t mind. #bestdayever.

With their 9th and final selection in the 2011 draft, the Leafs drafted their second prospect from a Minnesota high school hockey program in Edina High School defenceman Max Everson. From MN Hockey Prospects:

Plays a responsible defensive game, choosing wisely when to join the offensive rush. Everson transitions well, using his positioning and speed to force opponents to the outside. Everson has demonstrated the keen ability of taking away time and space from the opposition. Has the drive to be a workhorse defenseman and could develop into productive scorer at the next [collegiate] level. Everson continues to improve his coverage in front of the net, but still needs some fine-tuning.

Some tweets from Minnesota High School hockey reporter Ryan S. Clark on both Everson and fifth round pick Tony Cameranesi  courtesy of Burtonboy:

ryan_s_clark Ryan S. Clark
Everson is a good pick. He was a Mr. Hockey candidate here in Minnesota and if its not for an injury, gets more love

ryan_s_clark Ryan S. Clark
Cameranesi was also a Mr. Hockey candidate with a lot of speed, flair and when surrounded by good talent, excitement

ryan_s_clark Ryan S. Clark
Everson will play at Harvard while Cameranesi will be playing at national champion Minnesota-Duluth.

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Photo Credit: USHL.com

Photo Credit: USHL.com

Day 1 is done, and the Leafs have walked away with two prospects to add to a growing cupboard of young up-and-comers. Though that elusive number one centre has yet to be added via trade, talent has been added to the organization long term, and that’s never a bad thing.

What I enjoyed seeing last night; both kids in blue and white grew up members of Leafs Nation. Maybe, possibly, one or both might have read this site at one point. But that opportunity to bleed for the team you grew up idolizing is such a huge thing, and an attribute Burke clearly values, as both kids should push hard for opportunities over the next few years.

In Tyler Biggs, Burke brought in a player to play his smash mouth brand of hockey with some offensive upside. At 6’2 and 210 lbs, Biggs is physically mature and when combined with his long stride, mobile and balanced skating, Biggs is a hard kid to get off the puck. Physically, he hits like a train, and will leave a lot of damage in his path; he’s got fan favourite potential written all over him. There were some names on the draft board with more offensive upside and projection, but this is what one would expect of Burke with a late round pick; find someone that fits the tough-to-play-against team identity and has a good shot at contributing at the NHL level.

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Not only our present, but our future will be shaped over the next two weeks. Both free agency and the NHL Entry Draft are quickly approaching, and the Leafs figure to be highly active at both.

The Maple Leafs, under General Manager, Brian Burke, have built a deep system of prospects which boasts the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Jesse Blacker, to highlight a few. Most experts who have been consulted on the issue believe it to stack up anywhere between tenth and thirteenth in the National Hockey League as far as prospect stables go, and it should continue to grow this Friday.

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Prince Albert's Mark McNeill could be a target of Burke's in a trade up scenario. (Photo Credit: Raiderhockey.com)

NHL Prospect writer Brian Huddle of Hockeybuzz.com and FutureConsiderations.ca stops by MLHS to provide a look at what the Leafs’ future might hold:

The rebuild ‘officially’ began June 20th, 2008.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs are proud to select, with their first pick in this year’s draft, from the Kelowna Rockets – Luke Schenn.”

We’ve all heard those words, and likely relived that moment on Youtube. Mike Penny and his staff were all too happy to pick their future defensive stud. It was a moment that would tell the hockey world exactly what the Maple Leafs were going to be; big, tough and physical. No more pushing us over.