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