In his rookie season, Jake Virtanen scored seven goals and 13 points in 55 games, but had a hard time being a mainstay in the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup. Despite sticking with the big club, Virtanen was sent away to the World Junior Championship in December and when he did get into the lineup, he averaged a mere 11:33 per game.
And even though there was hope this season might see the 20-year-old take a big step forward and earn a bigger role, that simply hasn’t been the case.
Through 14 games, Virtanen has been a healthy scratch four times and is averaging little more than 10 minutes of ice time per game. In the games he has suited up, he’s managed one assist and a meager 13 shots on goal. And with no plan to put him in the lineup Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks decided to send Virtanen to the Utica Comets. The move, GM Jim Benning said, was made in hopes he can get some big minutes and start to find his game.
“This is about development,” Benning said, according to The Province’s Ben Kuzma. “It’s about giving Jake ice time and getting his confidence up like we did with (Troy) Stecher. Sometimes, our marketplace looks down on us when we send a player down because we’re not happy with him. That’s not the case. He’ll get games and hopefully take off from there.”
It’s not a bad move by the Canucks to send Virtanen down and get him some playing time, at the very least. Virtanen, the sixth-overall pick in 2014, came into the league with some expectations about what he might be able to bring the club but, thus far, he’s yet to deliver. Coach Willie Desjardins still sees something in Virtanen, though, saying that he “does stuff that is unique,” according to Kuzma.
“It’s not that I don’t think Jake is a good player and a spot you look for him is top nine or top six,” Desjardins said. “But he’s not consistent enough and until he gives you that, he can’t play.”
The plan, according to the Canucks, is to have Virtanen suit up for the Comets’ pair of weekend games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Hartford Wolf Pack, and then bring the sophomore winger back up to the NHL by Sunday.
Whether that means he’s available for Vancouver’s Sunday meeting with the Dallas Stars is to be seen, but given that he’ll be coming off of two travel days and back-to-back games, it likely means Virtanen is out of the Canucks’ lineup until at least Tuesday against the New York Rangers.
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