Who will stay - Virtanen or McCann? See which way Linden's leaning

Dec 19 2017, 6:06 pm

Hope you’ve enjoyed having three rookies on the roster, Canucks fans, because it may not last forever.

Rules allow each CHL player to have a nine game evaluation window before Vancouver must decide if they stay or go back to their junior hockey team for the season. Jared McCann has played four games and Jake Virtanen three, so it won’t be long until that window closes.

What we know: Hutton will be staying “unless he really falls off” – according to Jim Benning last week.

What we don’t know: which of the rookie forwards – Virtanen and McCann – will stick.

At the moment, all permutations are possibilities. Technically, they could keep both, but with Chris Higgins’ imminent return from injury (he’s already skating), they’d be scratching two young forwards a night if they did.

Considering Benning had to have an hour-long conversation with Sven Baertschi’s agent the first time he scratched him, you have to think he’ll avoid doing that every few days unless he’s really lonely. Also, sitting on your hands watching others play is not the best way to develop, though you do keep your hands warm.

Baertschi could be the key to the whole equation. If the Canucks believe he’s the weakest of the three young forwards, they could conceivably send him to Utica. It’s a risky move, considering they’d have to send him through waivers, as they tried and failed to do with Frankie Corrado earlier this month.

With the buzz and excitement the rookies have created in this market so far, you have to think they’ll keep at least one.

So who’s played better so far? Trevor Linden spoke on TSN 1040 radio last night, and it’s clear which way he’s leaning.

“Jared’s shown me he’s got some maturity in his game, no question,” said Linden. “He understands play away from the puck. He understands play down low. His body position, his stick position is excellent. He gets it.”

Coming from the team’s President, the “he gets it” is telling. Linden continued, “I said to Jim (Benning) we talked about Jake all summer, but Jared might be the guy that raises the most eyebrows and it’s turned out to be true.”

Fans watching at home may have raised their own eyebrows when Virtanen body-checked two Oilers at once Sunday to send Baertschi in on a breakaway.

Linden commented on Virtanen too: “Jake comes at it from a more physical standpoint. His size and strength is evident.”

Good stuff, but here’s the important part: “You know, it’s a big step – you go from junior to this level, and it’s a big step from preseason to regular season as well. He’s been good.”

Linden said “he’s been good” the way guys say “she’s cute” when asked if he’d be into a girl he doesn’t find attractive.

Back to those eyebrows – Linden’s are the ones that help make decisions and we know which way they’re raising. Of course, the rest of the management group in Vancouver will have a say as well. Whoever stays, fans might want to temper expectations on how much he’ll play.

“We’ve had players here in the past and fans have said, ‘Play him on the first line, play him on the first power play,'” said Linden. No question who he’s talking about – hint: his name rhymes with the way white people pronounce pho.

Linden continued: “It’s one of those things where young players need to earn that right. They need to earn that opportunity, and day-in day-out, practice-in practice-out, they need to earn that trust. That’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and I think Willie’s done an excellent job last year with Bo.”

So don’t expect McCann or Virtanen to play important third-period or power play minutes any quicker than Horvat did.

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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