The Vancouver Canucks had options last season when it came to Jake Virtanen. They ultimately came down to this: Send him back to junior, or keep him with the big club.
He wasn’t eligible to be sent to the minors last season, so the Canucks chose the latter, as Virtanen spent the entire season — with the exception of the world juniors — in the NHL. The sixth-overall pick in 2014, Virtanen scored seven goals and 13 points in 55 games.
A developing power forward capable of being physical and going to the net, conditioning was a real point of emphasis for Virtanen heading into his offseason workouts.
Now 20 years old, however, he knows he may be asked to spend some time this season working on his game in the minors, which puts the onus on him to not only be in top physical shape when camp begins, but to show he’s capable of producing more at the big-league level.
“This year I could be going to Utica or staying in Vancouver. But … I’m not going to focus on Utica. I’m just going to focus on playing in Vancouver,” Virtanen told TSN 1040 radio on Wednesday.
“I don’t have anything else on my mind.”
The Canucks have numerous veteran players listed as right wingers, including Loui Eriksson and Jannik Hansen, heading into camp. They also have Anton Rodin, a left-shooting right winger, who enters camp as something of a wild card. He could also crack this lineup with a good preseason.
There is competition at right wing heading into camp, and Virtanen will need to prove he can help the Canucks win, which was the message from head coach Willie Desjardins earlier in the summer.
“I think Willie and the management are going to have me held a little bit more accountable. I’ve got to get out there and they’re going to expect more from me,” said Virtanen.
“I’ve got to go out there and show I belong.”