PHILADELPHIA – Too worried about his own draft night, Jake Virtanen didn’t hear about his hometown Vancouver Canucks trading Ryan Kesler until late Friday. Of course he paid attention when he saw the Canucks kept the No. 6 pick.
“I just tried to shake it off and try not to worry about it,” Virtanen said.
The next player up after the consensus top five of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett and Michael Dal Colle, Virtanen got his “dream come true” when the Canucks used that sixth overall pick on him.
“It’s pretty surreal for me,” the six-foot left-winger said. “Still trying to soak it in. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Virtanen, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., becomes yet another piece of the Trevor Linden/Jim Benning retooling project on the day Kesler was sent to the Anaheim Ducks and defenceman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning. So does Sault Ste. Marie centre Jared McCann, taken with the No. 24 pick the Canucks got as part of the Kesler deal.
Ironically, McCann said he tries to model his game after Kesler.
“I like the way he plays the game,” McCann said. “He’s a two-way centreman, like I try to be. He’s not afraid to drop the gloves if necessary. I definitely try to be like him.”
McCann was just one piece of the Kesler trade, as the Canucks also got centre Nick Bonino and defenceman Luca Sbisa, whom the Canucks got from Anaheim, and they turned the 85th pick into Derek Dorsett thanks to another move made with the New York Rangers.
Virtanen seems like a long-term project. Not only could he probably use some more time with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, but he had shoulder surgery in May and is targeting mid-October to be cleared to take contact.
“If it’s not mid-October, I think I just want to be 100 per cent healthy,” Virtanen said. “I’m not going to rush anything. I just want to be healthy and be able to play my best game.”
Virtanen, a power forward who NHL Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan compares to Jarome Iginla, showed some of his best hockey this past season as a point-a-game player. He was also tied as Canada’s leading scorer at the world under-18 championship.
All that didn’t mean Virtanen went into draft day relaxed and confident. He tossed and turned Thursday night worrying.
Virtanen wondered if the shoulder injury would cause him to drop a few spots, but he hoped it wouldn’t be a big deal. Still, he was anxious about where he’d get taken.
“I kind of just sat at the hotel just sweating,” Virtanen said. “The day was pretty crazy.”
Not just for him but the Canucks’ organization given the flurry of trades. Vancouver wrapped up its haul for Kesler by taking McCann, ranked 10th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, with the 24th pick.
McCann, a native of Stratford, Ont., had 62 points in 64 games last season and is considered a gifted playmaker. He knows there will be some pressure that comes with being part of the Kesler trade, but he doesn’t mind.
“I feel like I’m going to handle it very well,” he said.
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