Cam Tucker

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Benning preaches patience with 2014 first-round pick Virtanen

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The Vancouver Canucks have a logjam at forward after a busy summer, with general manager Jim Benning adding another veteran in Thomas Vanek.

The Canucks currently have 15 forwards under contract, and that isn’t including Jake Virtanen or Nikolay Goldobin, who are among the prospects in Vancouver’s system and looking to make the roster full-time.

Given the numbers, that promises to be an uphill battle in training camp, which means it’s possible they spend time in the minors this season.

The Benning-Trevor Linden regime enters its fourth season leading the Canucks. Virtanen is the group’s first-ever draft pick, going sixth overall in 2014.

In 65 NHL games, the 21-year-old right winger has shown potential at times with his speed and ability to be physical as a prospect the Canucks hope to develop into a power forward.

But last season, he played in only 10 games with Vancouver, averaging just over 10 minutes a game, and was eventually dispatched to Utica to get more playing time to better develop. Meanwhile, a number of forwards selected after him in that 2014 draft are already making an impact on their respective clubs.

His numbers down there (nine goals and 19 points) hardly stand out in a positive light, and it might benefit him more to spend another season down in the AHL. In an extensive interview with Bob McKenzie of TSN, Benning believed Virtanen made progress in Utica as last season progressed.

“I think in sending him down last year, he’s bought into being a pro,” said Benning. “He’s worked extremely hard off the ice. He’s had a very good summer. But he’s a unique player because for a big man, he’s fast and the game has gotten so fast the last couple of years. He can play that fast game and he’s a big guy.

“We’re going to be patient with him. It’s hard to develop power forwards and we think once he puts it all together, he could be a good power forward for us.”

Virtanen enters the final year of his entry-level contract. He’s a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Related: Canucks need Virtanen to realize what he’s capable of at his size and speed

Varlamov confident ‘all the injuries are behind me’ as he returns from surgery

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Pretty much everything went wrong for the Colorado Avalanche last season, and by the end of January, goalie Semyon Varlamov was gone from the lineup.

The 29-year-old Varlamov, who posted a .927 save percentage in 2013-14 when the Avalanche posted 112 points, had season-ending surgery after dealing with groin injuries the past couple of years.

The expectation following the operation was that he’d be fully healthy for the start of this upcoming season, and Varlamov has since provided an optimistic update ahead of training camp.

According to a report from the Denver Post, the netminder didn’t start skating with full pads until the middle of July, but there seems to have been strong progress since.

“At the beginning when I started skating, I was pretty uncomfortable. The surgeries were kind of tough; you have to learn again how to skate,” Varlamov told the Denver Post.

“But I feel confident about it now. I’m sure all the injuries are behind me and I’m looking forward to have a really good, solid, healthy season. It’s been a tough stretch for me, the last six months. Lots of rehab going on. But I’m blessed to have a really good team — doctors and physical therapists who work with me. They’ve done a tremendous job for me. I feel good on the ice.”

The Avalanche was forced to make a change in net this summer, after losing Calvin Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Jonathan Bernier was brought to Colorado on the first day of free agency after putting together a nice season as the back-up in Anaheim.

Varlamov still has two years left on his contract (at a cap hit of $5.9 million) before he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

It’s an ‘important year for me,’ says Nash, who enters final year of deal

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Rick Nash has seen his goal and point production drop in the last two years, but there should be plenty of motivation for him to try to turn that around this season.

Nash, who turned 33 years old in June, is now in the final year of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract and is eligible to hit the open market at the end of the season.

It wasn’t that long ago, Nash, already an accomplished scorer, had wrapped up his best season ever in terms of goal production with 42. That number dropped by quite a bit — as did his shooting percentage, shots-on-goal total, and number of games played — to 15 goals the following season in 2015-16.

Read more: Rick Nash at career crossroads in contract year

Last season, which was again interrupted by injury, he scored 23 times, which is a step back in the right direction for the veteran forward.

He’s made it no secret that this contract year is significant for his future.

“Every year I want to have the best year possible. But this year, it’s an important year for me personally,” said Nash, per the New York Daily News. “It’s an important year for the Rangers, too. We still haven’t achieved that goal (winning the Stanley Cup) that we all want to achieve.”

The big question over the next few months will be about whether or not the Rangers decide to bring him back following this season. If they do, what will the price be? Nash has only twice in his 14-year career fallen short of the 20-goal mark, with that most recently occurring in 2015-16. But he will also be 34 years old when free agency opens again next July.

The Rangers have already started the transition of getting younger and faster, and, following another playoff loss, the offseason produced more changes to the roster with the buyout of Dan Girardi and the trade of Derek Stepan.

“It’s sports,” said Nash, per the New York Post. “That’s what happens with contracts — your contract is up and you play for another contract. That’s what I’m facing this year.”

Therrien is back with the Habs — as a scout

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After getting fired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens in February, Michel Therrien has reportedly returned to the Habs.

He won’t, however, be behind the bench.

According to reports on Friday, Therrien has re-joined the Canadiens as a scout for this season. Per NHL.com, he will scout Panthers and Lightning games.

“I want to be out there, I want to see games and I want to be ready,” Therrien told TSN 690, per NHL.com. “I’m not going to stay in my place and wait for the phone call. I did that before when I lost my job in Pittsburgh [as Penguins coach in 2009]. I want to see as many games as I can and this is what I’m expecting to do next year [for the Canadiens].”

The Habs came flying out of the gate last season, going 13-1-1 in their first 15 games. But they struggled after that with only 18 wins in their next 43 games, leading to Therrien’s dismissal. He was replaced by Claude Julien, who had been let go by the Bruins.

Therrien was among the candidates for the Florida Panthers head coaching gig before Bob Boughner was named to the position.

A fantasy draft sleeper? McDavid hypes up newcomer Ryan Strome

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Go through Yahoo’s Fantasy Hockey draft analysis and it will take a while to find Ryan Strome.

He currently has an average draft position of 167, right in between sophomore Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov and Rangers forward J.T. Miller.

But Strome may soon see a boost to his ADP after Connor McDavid, the top-ranked player for obvious reasons, spoke highly of the 24-year-old forward as a potential fantasy draft sleeper heading into his first season with the Edmonton Oilers.

“I think it could be [Strome], honestly,” McDavid recently told NHL.com. “He’s a guy that is going to come in and I think he’s going to get a pretty good opportunity to play with some good players and maybe take a little bit of power-play time and help. I think he’s going to do well with it.”

The Oilers traded proven regular season scorer Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders in June, while getting Strome in return. The latter had 17 goals and 50 points in his sophomore season, but hasn’t been able to match that same production in the two years since, as he’s dealt with injury and was made a healthy scratch at times by former Islanders coach Jack Capuano.

The prospect of playing with McDavid and/or Draisaitl is an exciting one for Strome, but exactly where he fits into the lineup will be determined over the next few weeks.

His ability to play both wing and center should give Edmonton flexibility to move other forwards — particularly Leon Draisaitl — around the lineup. Draisaitl spent significant time last season on a line with McDavid but he can also play in the middle and may be used as the Oilers’ No. 2 center at times throughout the season.