Mike Zalewski

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Benning: Canucks need Virtanen in Vancouver, and they need him to start scoring

Among the issues the Vancouver Canucks are dealing with, general manager Jim Benning is faced with what to do with prospect forward Jake Virtanen.

He’s eligible to play in the AHL. Yet, he remains in Vancouver, where he has yet to score a goal this season and where he is only playing 10 minutes a game right now under head coach Willie Desjardins. Meanwhile, the Canucks have been shut out in four of the last five games and that 4-0 start to the season is a distant memory now.

“I had this conversation with Jake about a week ago and that will be up to him,” Benning told TSN 1040 on Friday.

“If he started scoring goals, Willie would have more trust in him and put him out there more, and he’d get more ice time. Ice time is something young players have to earn.”

The Virtanen debate has been ongoing for months.

Playing in the AHL is a real possibility this season. Trevor Linden said the 2014 sixth overall pick would have to earn his spot on the NHL roster. And last week, the Canucks recalled Mike Zalewski after Virtanen spoke up to the media about his struggles and not playing enough with the same linemates.

The ice time is the focus. The Canucks don’t have a young forward with the kind of tools — size, skating ability and a physical edge — Virtanen brings.

But exactly how does playing 10 minutes a night benefit a young player, when they could be given a larger role in the minors in order to develop?

“The last three or four goals, he’s shown us some things he can do,” said Benning. “We’d still like him to get to the net harder, hang out in front of the net for tip-ins and rebound goals. For now, we need him up here and we need him to start scoring.”

With the Canucks having lost seven straight, the hot seat may be heating up for Desjardins, although Benning praised the work of the coaching staff for employing a more structured, discipline system. But, again. That whole scoring thing continues.

The Canucks defensive corps is dealing with injuries. It appears Chris Tanev will be out Saturday. Alex Edler was the latest casualty, following Thursday’s game in Ottawa. As a result, right-shooting blue liner Troy Stecher was recalled from AHL Utica.

Stecher, a free agent college signing from North Dakota, impressed in training camp and again recently during a brief call-up stint with the Canucks. A sign of the times? That was pretty much the only positive for this team during this skid.