Virtanen eyeing roster spot with Canucks

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Jake Virtanen is hoping his hard work over the summer translates into a roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pound winger spent the offseason focused on getting his body right to make the jump to the NHL this season.

“For me, just obviously getting stronger and losing a lot of body fat was important,” Virtanen told The Vancouver Sun. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work this summer and I think so far it has paid off.

“It’s obviously in the back of my mind that I could be on the Canucks this year as a rookie. It’s pretty cool. But you just have to take things day by day and not look ahead too far.”

Shoulder surgery limited the Canucks’ 2014 first-round pick (6th overall) to 50 games with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen last season. Virtanen registered 21 goals and 31 assists during the regular season and added 13 points in 14 playoff games. He also helped Team Canada win a gold medal at the 2015 world juniors.

Following the WHL playoffs, Virtanen joined the AHL’s Utica Comets for the Calder Cup playoffs where he registered one assist in 10 games.

With the likes of Sven Baertschi, Ronalds Kenins, Nicklas Jensen and Hunter Shinkaruk all battling for roster spots, Virtanen could be in tough to make the Canucks out of camp.

However, GM Jim Benning likes what he sees from the 19-year-old.

“We’ve talked to Jake,” Benning said. “There’s no pressure on him to do something he’s not capable of doing. He has the physical skills — we all know that. And he’s worked hard to get himself into the physical shape to play against men. If he’s ready and he can help our team win, then we’ll figure out a way for him to get into the lineup.”

Related: Linden: Canucks summer moves about ‘long-term vision’