Normally Pacific Division rivals, the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks are nevertheless discussing a trade that would send underperforming young forward Jake Virtanen further down the Pacific coast. According to multiple sources, the two teams continue to negotiate what the exchange of packages may look like. A flurry of information over the past hour or two implies that talks are very much still ongoing and public nature of the trade discussion is often a strong indicator that a deal of some sort will get done. However, The Athletic’s Thomas Drance writes that while the Canucks and Ducks are “grinding away”, a deal is not imminent for now.
Virtanen’s name as the headliner of this trade should come as no surprise. He has been one of the most verified members of the trade block this season, with whispers of Vancouver’s impatience with his lack of production dating back to last season. It’s difficult to blame the Cancucks for being upset with Virtanen to the point of wanting to move on; the 24-year-old was the sixth overall pick in 2014 and plays with the size and skill to be a dynamic power forward. Virtanen was seen as one of the safest bets in his draft class, yet six years later has shown too much floor and not enough ceiling. Although 2019-20 marked a career year for Virtanen with new highs in goals and points, it still only amounted to 18 goals and 36 points whilst his checking game diminished. After earning 55 NHL games as a rookie in 2015-16, the Canucks’ first sign that Virtanen’s effort and reliability may become a question came the following season, when he only played in ten NHL games and spent the rest of the season producing pedestrian numbers in the AHL. At the top level ever since, Virtanen has only managed 20 points, 25 points, and the aforementioned 36 points in his first three full NHL seasons.
The final straw for GM Jim Benning and company has been Virtanen’s play so far this season. The obviously talented forward has failed to meet expectations before, but this time the disparity is too great. Virtanen has just one point in 19 games despite ample opportunity early on in the campaign. As a result, Virtanen has now been relegated to a fourth line role, a poor fit for a player of his offensive ability but who also too frequently plays without energy. Unable to motivate their young forward and without a fit in the lineup, Vancouver is looking to move on.
The Ducks make sense as a partner in a Virtanen trade for many reason. Anaheim’s roster, though it includes a number of established veterans, is largely in a rebuild. The team has acquired a large group of young pro options and are in the process of evaluating who they do and do not want to build around as their new core. Unfortunately, veterans and youngsters alike have been underperforming in Anaheim, last year and early this season. The Ducks are understandably willing to take on a high-upside risk in Virtanen given that they have scoring opportunity to spare in their ever-changing lineup and are looking for top talent to build around.
There are a number of potential underachieving young forwards who could be off to Vancouver in exchange, but it seems that one name in particular has emerged as a definite inclusion. Both The Athletic’s Rick Dhaliwal (link) and Sportsnet’s Nick Alberga (link) report that forward Danton Heinen is expected to be moving to Vancouver in the potential trade. A fellow member of the 2014 draft class, though as an unheralded fourth-rounder of the Boston Bruins, Heinen has nonetheless found slightly more success than Virtanen. However, his numbers are trending in the wrong direction. After a 47-point rookie season in 2017-18, Heinen fell to 34 points the next year and ultimately fell out of favor in Boston last season, dealt to Anaheim for Nick Ritchie at the trade deadline. Heinen has recorded 10 points in 26 games across two seasons so far for Anaheim – a 32-point full-season pace – indicating that his scoring may not jump back up to near-50 and beyond with the Ducks either. Vancouver appears willing to take the chance on the British Columbia native though, perhaps with some added insight from former Bruins executive Benning. Whether or not he fits the description of the “young forward” that the club has been hunting for depends on your definition of the word.
Of course, if this was a simple one-for-one deal, it would be done by now. According to multiple sources, both players seem to be aware that they are included in the potential trade, but work still needs to be done on the additional pieces. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that balancing the books may be part of the problem, though Virtanen carries a $2.55MM cap hit this year (and next) while Heinen sits at $2.8MM, so there is not much an impactful discrepancy, even for two cap-strapped clubs. Drance notes that Vancouver was insistent on getting current value back for Virtanen, rather than just a pick or prospect to dump his salary, but Anaheim may be looking for more as a result of giving up a roster asset and taking on an additional contract year. Regardless of the reason for the deal not being completed, the two sides appear close and continue to talk. Stay tuned for more.