Barring a trade, the Canucks will pick sixth. Jake Virtanen (above right) is rated the sixth best North American skater by Central Scouting, 10th overall by the International Scouting Service and 11th overall by The Hockey News. He is considered a north-south power forward and a pure goal scorer.
Photograph by: Derek Leung, Getty Images Sport
The National Hockey League’s 2014 entry draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia, and one of this year’s elite prospects is Abbotsford’s Jake Virtanen, a right winger with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
Virtanen, 17, scored 45 goals and collected 71 points for the Hitmen in 71 regular-season games. He also picked up 100 minutes in penalties and was a plus-23. At 6-1 and 210, he has NHL size, but he won’t be ready to start next season in either the WHL or NHL after undergoing major shoulder surgery two weeks ago.
Virtanen spent this past week at the NHL scouting combine in Toronto where he interviewed with 24 teams, including the Vancouver Canucks.
Barring a trade, the Canucks will pick sixth. Virtanen is rated the sixth best North American skater by Central Scouting, 10th overall by the International Scouting Service and 11th overall by The Hockey News. He is considered a north-south power forward and a pure goal scorer.
We caught up to Virtanen at the scouting combine.
Q: You grew up a Canuck fan and attended some of their games at Rogers Arena. What was the experience like being interviewed by them?
A: I thought it was pretty cool. They had a pretty big group at the interview, including Trevor Linden and Mr. Benning. They talked to me for about 20-25 minutes. No, I didn’t feel intimidated by the situation. I felt pretty comfortable actually. I think growing up watching them made it feel that way. They were nice to talk to so it was good.
Followers of the Canucks have complained they haven’t drafted enough B.C. kids, enough WHL kids and enough pure goal scorers. You seem to tick off all those boxes. How would you feel if they selected you on June 27?
It would be pretty cool, obviously, to play in front of my family and friends. They could come and watch and it would be amazing. There is a good atmosphere at the games in Vancouver and they have some pretty great fans so I think it would be great for me to play there. Obviously it’s getting closer to the draft now and it’s getting really exciting. I guess I’ll just see what happens when I get there. But, I mean, I’ll be happy to be drafted by any team.
Can you explain the situation with your shoulder? When did you injure it? Did you play hurt for a while?
I actually got hurt mid-season. It wasn’t really a big injury but the left shoulder was kind of half popping out so it was pretty unstable. I played with it throughout the second half of the year and then in the playoffs and at the under-18 championships in Finland. I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to have the surgery because I had so many things going on. Finally I got it done two weeks ago in Vancouver.
Did you get the sense, in your interviews at the combine, that teams were concerned about the shoulder and that it might affect your draft position?
No, teams didn’t seem worried at all. With the technology nowadays, I think stuff like this is not going to be anything serious long-term. I think I’ll be ready to skate by August and ready to play by the end of October or early November. So they weren’t too worried. They just talked to me about my game and what I could work on and stuff like that. Those were the things we talked about.
The combine interview process often produces a goofy question or two. What was the best, or most amusing, question you were asked?
I forgot what team it was but I was asked if I got put in the military, what would I be: a helicopter pilot, a medic, or a sniper? I thought that was pretty funny and I had to tell them sniper. They all started laughing. So I thought that was pretty good.
With your Finnish last name, and your dad being a native of Finland, what was it like to play there at the U-18s? Did people expect you to speak Finnish when they heard Virtanen?
Actually every Finnish person I met over there asked me if I spoke Finnish but I had to say no. I don’t speak it at all. I had never even been to Finland before. Even though my dad is from there, it was my first time. It was pretty cool to finally see the country. My grandparents, who are from Finland but live in Canada now, flew back over there to watch me play and my grandfather’s brother came down from his hometown so it was really exciting to see him.
What is on your plate in the coming weeks? Do you have to finish high school at Yale Secondary? Is that final English exam staring you in the face?
I’m actually done high school. I did summer school quite a bit to get ahead so I could focus on hockey this year. I finished all my courses about halfway through the season and I walked across the stage (graduation ceremonies) last week. After I get home from the combine, I’ll start rehabbing the shoulder in the next week here. It’s getting a lot better already so that’s a good sign.
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