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Linden: Virtanen must earn his spot on Canucks roster

The Vancouver Canucks are loaded with question marks for next season.

One of them will be about what is best for the development of right winger Jake Virtanen, who will turn 20 years old next month and is coming off his first NHL campaign. He scored seven goals and 13 points in 55 games as a 19-year-old rookie. On occasion, he showed an ability to drive the net and to be a physical forward capable of crushing the opposition.

That big, physical, powerful forward that can also score is something the Canucks need. Virtanen could still evolve into that player. (On a similar note: Evander Kane trade speculation has been rampant in Vancouver in recent weeks.)

Becoming a consistent performer, showing more than just flashes of potential, has been a talking point surrounding Virtanen this summer.

He’ll be eligible to play with the Utica Comets in the AHL next season, and there is competition at the right wing in Vancouver, with numerous veteran players also listed at that position. That means a spot on the roster won’t be guaranteed for Virtanen, taken sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.

“Jake is going to be a big part of this team for years. It was a stepping stone for him and I was out there (Vancouver) for a week and saw him training and he looked good to me,” Canucks’ center Bo Horvat told Ben Kuzma of The Province newspaper.

“He doesn’t have the mindset that he’s on the team. He has to work for it. It’s the consistency part of the game and you can’t take a night off like in junior. You can take some off knowing it’s a for-sure win and an easier night. There are no easy nights in the NHL. On any night, any team can surprise you.”

Last season, the Canucks kept Virtanen and Jared McCann with the big club, despite the option of sending them back to junior and not burning the first years of their respective entry-level contracts.

It was a major step for a team as it transitions to a younger roster, a younger core. It also came with an abundance of growing pains, culminating in Daniel Sedin ripping into his team after a particularly poor effort versus St. Louis in March.

After the season ended, and the Canucks finished 28th in the overall standings, head coach Willie Desjardins threw down the gauntlet, saying the team would focus once again on trying to win, and putting the onus on the youngsters to be good enough to help in that aspect.

When it comes to Virtanen, his conditioning has turned into an emphasis this summer.

“I think Jake has … a very raw and very unique skill set,” Canucks’ president Trevor Linden told TSN 1040. “He’s come a long way. Last year was an important year for him, just having him see what it takes to get to the next level.

“Jake knows he’s going to have to come to training camp this fall and earn a spot.”

Related: Since World Juniors disappointment, Virtanen has been ‘a different player’ for Canucks

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    The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

    Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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    Three Stars

    1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

    Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

    2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

    The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

    3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

    With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

    Other notable performances from Friday

    • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
    • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
    • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
    • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

    Highlights of the Night

    Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

    Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

    Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

    Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

    Stats of the Night

    Scores

    Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

    Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

    Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

    Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

    Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


    Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

    Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

    Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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    New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

    The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

    “We’ve proven we can overcome losing one of our top players and we’re going to have to do it again,” Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters after the 5-2 loss. “Listen, teams throughout the League are handling injuries, and we’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part this season for injuries.”

    New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


    Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

    Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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    The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

    Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

    First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

    The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

    DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

    When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

    Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

    The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

    Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

     

    Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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    Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

    The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

    That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

    Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

    Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

    Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

    The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

    Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.