Cam Tucker

Jake Virtanen
AP Photo

Canucks’ Virtanen knows spending time in the AHL is a possibility

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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.”

Video: Johnny Hockey’s sweet breakaway move completely fools Lundqvist

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Johnny Gaudreau couldn’t beat Henrik Lundqvist on a penalty shot 56 seconds into Wednesday’s World Cup game between Team North America and Team Sweden.

But the skilled Calgary Flames forward got his revenge.

Later in the opening period, Gaudreau was sent in on another breakaway, this time deking to his forehand and completely fooling Lundqvist, the veteran goalie. The goal gave North America a 3-1 lead late in the opening period.

The first period ended with ‘TNA’ leading Sweden 3-2, after a very entertaining 20 minutes of hockey that saw both teams combine for 32 shots on goal.

Team North America came flying out of the gate, with Auston Matthews scoring 30 seconds in.

Gaudreau, who is still a restricted free agent and reportedly asking for around $8 million a season, followed that up with his penalty shot attempt before the game was even a minute old.

Related:

Here’s what’s at stake in today’s World Cup games

It’s official: Capitals re-sign Orlov to one-year, $2.57M deal

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25:  Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The wait is officially over.

The Washington Capitals announced Wednesday afternoon that they had re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a one-year deal worth $2.57 million, which backs up an earlier report from the Washington Post stating he would sign within the neighborhood of $2.6 million.

Orlov, 25, made $2.25 million last season, the final year of his previous two-year contract. He scored eight goals and 29 points in 82 regular season games in 2015-16.

Even before this contract was signed, the Capitals had bigger plans for Orlov heading into this season.

“I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz in August.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”

So, Phil Kessel has apparently weighed in on Team USA’s loss

PHIL KESSEL
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Phil Kessel‘ appears to be trending on Twitter.

Shortly after Team USA was officially eliminated from contention at the World Cup of Hockey, the prolific scoring forward made what you could easily determine to be a subtle but not-so-subtle jab on social media at the decision this spring to leave him off the roster.

(It must be noted that Kessel underwent hand surgery this summer, and he is working to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup for opening night of the regular season. It’s been widely believed he was unavailable for this tournament.)

The result Tuesday opens the door to plenty of second-guessing and criticism for how this U.S. roster was built for this tournament. Did general manager Dean Lombardi and his group bring the best players to face the likes of Team Canada?

The blueprint was to build a team that was physical and gritty. But what about bringing in additional game-breakers that are dynamic point producers or strong in the puck possession game? Through two round robin games, Team USA scored twice, including a goal in what was essentially garbage time against the Canadians.

At least publicly, head coach John Tortorella, who will take his share of criticism in all this, wouldn’t change anything about the make-up of this team.

Related:

Tortorella defends Team USA’s roster, blames loss to Canada on ‘self-inflicted’ mistakes

Identity crisis: Team USA suffers disastrous loss to Team Canada at World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Jonathan Quick #32 of Team USA makes a save on Matt Duchene #9 of Team Canada in the second period during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 20, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Dean Lombardi wanted to build a Team USA that could beat Team Canada at the World Cup by means of gritty, grinding style. They had their shot Tuesday in Toronto.

And Canada came away victorious. Again.

All that talk about grit and physical play amounted to a 4-2 loss for Team USA, which is now officially eliminated from contention at the World Cup. The Americans have gone 0-2 through the opening two games of the round robin, after losing to Team Europe in a rather uninspiring — and equally concerning — display in the opener and failing to maintain a decent start against the Canadians.

They play the Czech Republic on Thursday. And then it is officially over for Team USA.

This one should sting. For a long time.

It’s completely fair to say this management group — with Lombardi as the GM and John Tortorella as its head coach — completely overvalued things like ‘grit’ and ‘intangibles.’

Phil Kessel would not have been able to play at this tournament due to hand surgery in the summer, a development that wasn’t revealed until the middle of July. But why was a prolific goal scorer left off the roster in the first place and others like Brandon Dubinsky penciled in ahead of him?

And then, there is this, just moments after Team USA lost. Game, set and match, Phil Kessel.

Further to that:

No Tyler Johnson.

No Bobby Ryan.

No Kevin Shattenkirk.

No Justin Faulk.

No Kyle Okposo.

All very notable snubs, especially after this showing, punctuated by the loss to the rival Canadians. And the result should open the floodgates to questions and criticism about why this roster was shaped this particular way.

Tortorella scratching Dustin Byfuglien — while dressing Jack Johnson — and Kyle Palmieri — and dressing Dubinsky — for his team’s tournament opener was questioned, especially after the final score.

The talent pool in the U.S. is there. They also have several up-and-coming stars — Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel or Johnny Gaudreau — but they played on the younger Team North America in this tournament.

But this management and coaching staff did have options. Better options, you can easily argue, for this competition. And it chose to venture down a path with a team that could bang and crash and block shots and, well, apparently not much else.

Team USA outhit the Canadians. By a wide margin (38-14), in fact. They won more faceoffs (62 per cent compared to 38 per cent) than the Canadians. Again, by a wide margin. But they couldn’t score like the Canadians could. Yes, they were unlucky, hitting three goal posts in the final period. But ultimately, they couldn’t match the skill and they couldn’t match the depth.

And now, they’re done.

Critics of this team, however, may only be getting started.