Virtanen sent to AHL for conditioning; World Juniors bound?

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The Vancouver Canucks have assigned winger Jake Virtanen to AHL Utica on a conditioning assignment.

Virtanen has missed the past four games with a hip pointer. The 19-year-old has one goal and three assists in 19 games. His average ice time is just 9:50.

“He needs to play,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins explained today, calling the AHL assignment an opportunity for Virtanen to “handle the puck a little bit more.”

Of note, Virtanen is eligible to play for Canada at the upcoming World Juniors in Finland. He won gold representing his country at last year’s tournament.

Might the Canucks be willing to release him to go for gold again?

“It’s always a great opportunity to play for your country,” Desjardins said, without committing one way or the other.

The consensus is that Virtanen will, indeed, be released to play for Canada.

The Canucks have another 19-year-old Canadian that’s eligible to go to Finland. But in Jared McCann‘s case, the consensus is that Vancouver — with Brandon Sutter having just undergone sports-hernia surgery — can’t afford to let him go.

Tonight against the Rangers, McCann will be centering the second line.