This is all Jake Virtanen needs to know.
There are too many right-wingers for the projected roster next fall. And even though some can play the left side, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning is willing to trade for another seasoned winger with size, grit and scoring ability. With Milan Lucic now in Edmonton, Troy Brouwer in Calgary and too many wide bodies still in San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles, you still have to don the big-boy pants in the Pacific Division. Maybe now more than ever.
And that could work in Virtanen’s favour. If he’s fit. If he’s more focused than fun-loving.
“I’ll be here in Vancouver and training all summer and I won’t be going anywhere,” pledged the 19-year-old Virtanen, whose rollercoaster National Hockey League rookie season was a sobering realization of what it takes to become a consummate professional — a tough ask for any wide-eyed and impressionable player. “It’s coming into camp and making a statement that I belong right away.
Jake Virtanen was heavily scrutinized in his rookie NHL season and world junior tournament.
“Even though I was on the team last year, things can happen. I can be sent down, but I want to prove to management that I belong here. I’ve got to come into camp and show the coaching staff right away that I’m ready to play. I want to be here and I’m just going to go out and play my hardest. I want to be a dominant player right away and that’s huge.”
The right way means accountability.
It means using that thick 6-1, 208-pound frame to make opposition players feel like they ran into a brick wall. It means skating hard all the time to be a force along the walls and the end boards. It means not coasting on the backcheck or missing your assignment in the defensive zone. It means a lot. But if Virtanen wants to take a giant development step and move from project to roster regular in his second season, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft can’t pick his spots. He has to be all in, all the time.
Virtanen certainly sounds like he understands what’s at stake.
“It’s being an every-day guy — you can’t take any days off,” he agreed. “You can’t just dip your toes in. You have to be a guy the players appreciate and for a new guy coming into the league, that’s a big change. You’ve go to have that mindset. Look at Hank and Danny (Sedin). They’re every-day guys and they stay consistent and do everything to make themselves better.”
The Sedins were hard on the kids last season because there should never be a sense of entitlement. Virtanen averaged 11:33 of playing time in 55 games and managed seven goals and six assists. He also managed to irk the coaching staff when his attention span would waver or his conditioning wasn’t where it should be. And if that’s the case through the pre-season or in the early stages of the regular season, he turns 20 on Aug. 17 and could be sent to the AHL’s Utica Comets. He could play 20 minutes a night there, get some tough love from coach Travis Green and be better for it.
Jannik Hansen has a movable contract, but Jim Benning said he’s not dealing the Dane.
It’s a possibility.
With Loui Eriksson, Jannik Hansen, Anton Rodin, Emerson Etem, Derek Dorsett and Alex Burrows as other projected ride-side options — Rodin, Dorsett and Burrows can play left wing — the right early impression will be crucial. Benning said he won’t trade Hansen and won’t buy out Burrows when the next window opens in August.
However, if Benning does land a winger with some pedigree, he’ll probably have to part with at least a roster player and he has a lot of right-wingers.
When main camp arrives in September, Virtanen will also have to impress Doug Jarvis. He replaces Glen Gulutzan as an assistant coach and will handle forwards and the power play. As expected, Jarvis wants players with a 200-foot game mentality and an understanding of the team concept. It’s how Jarvis excelled in a 13-year NHL playing career with Montreal, Washington and Hartford.
The responsible two-way centre never missed a game due to injury — he played 964 career regular-season games plus 105 playoff games — and also won the Selke Trophy as top defensive forward and Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication. That should resonate with everybody and especially with younger players trying to establish themselves. Jarvis captured four Stanley Cups as a player and two as an assistant coach. So, how can he help the kids?
“The big thing is sharing your experiences,” Jarvis told TSN 1040 on Monday. “A lot of coaching is teaching and to do that you have to have experiences and communicate. If a player is coachable, there are things he can pick up and get in his game.”
Virtanen’s game was better for his world junior hockey experience, even though it didn’t end well for Team Canada. He was forced to skate harder on the bigger ice surface, but became a lightning-rod for criticism for his penalties in a 6-5 quarter-final loss to eventual champion Finland. He handled intense scrutiny well and how well he handles greater expectations next fall will depend on how hard he works now.
He knows that.