The Vancouver Canucks have sent down Jake Virtanen to play with their AHL farm team in Utica.
Virtanen, the sixth overall draft pick in 2014, was ineligible to play in the AHL last year, aside from a fixed-term conditioning stint. Now 20 years-old, he’s fully eligible to play for the Comets, and doesn’t need waivers to get there.
Canucks GM Jim Benning has indicated that the plan will be to give Virtanen two games with Utica on Friday and Saturday, then return him to the Canucks.
It’s been a nightmare start to the season for Virtanen so far in Vancouver. He has no goals and one assist in 10 games with the Canucks, while receiving just 10:09 of ice time per game.
While Virtanen has the distinction of having not being on the ice for a single goal against this season, he hasn’t looked like himself.
- Hump Day Hockey: Loui Eriksson finally scores goal (in right net) for Canucks
- SixPack: Canucks break losing streak, defeat Rangers 5-3
Last season Virtanen appeared in 55 games, scoring 13 points (7-6-13), while providing a physical element.
But the bone-crushing bodychecks – which were a regular occurrence a season ago – are gone from his game. He also hasn’t been able to build off his strong play at the tail-end of last season.
A number of people have speculated that his shoulder isn’t quite 100%, something he and the team have denied. Virtanen has had shoulder problems in the past, and was injured again in preseason.
Also complicating matters is that Virtanen reportedly came into training camp out of shape. If true, that’s something that will grate on the nerves of the coaching staff and management, as well putting himself behind the eight ball.
So, maybe WD doesn't see JV putting in the work when he's not playing. Just my theory.
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) November 8, 2016
Given he came into camp out of shape, hasn’t been playing well, and has been healthy scratched, he’ll be expected to put in extra work to prove he belongs in the lineup.
Virtanen was a healthy scratch in back-to-back games against the Islanders and Rangers this week, despite the fact that the Canucks were desperate for a win and have injury troubles up front. That should speak volumes.
Virtanen and the team will say all the right things – as they should – but you have to wonder if we know the whole story with regards to the youngster.
In any case, Virtanen could benefit from some increased ice time in Utica, despite the fact that the Comets are in last place in the AHL right now. He’ll get an opportunity to log heavy minutes, including time on the power play in the AHL.
Virtanen is still developing as a player who the Canucks hope will be a goal scorer for them in the future, so his progression is of the utmost importance to the franchise.