Iain MacIntyre: Virtanen schooled on focus points

 

Twin tutors: Sedins are helping their ‘Bieber fan’ navigate his own purpose-ful tour on difficult road to NHL success

 
 
 
 
Head coach Willie Desjardins of the Vancouver Canucks looks around Jake Virtanen #18 of the Canucks  during their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena March 14, 2016 in Vancouver.
 
 

Head coach Willie Desjardins of the Vancouver Canucks looks around Jake Virtanen #18 of the Canucks during their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena March 14, 2016 in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

More on This Story

 

“If Jake scores seven goals or 14 goals, it doesn’t matter. But if when he’s 22 or 23 he can be an everyday NHL player where you know he’s going to show up for every game and play well, that’s going to help him tremendously.”

— Canuck captain Henrik Sedin, last week

The Vancouver Canucks were bound to devolve into infighting. All those losses and blown leads and the hopeless deficit in the playoff race always threatened to tear the team apart. And now it is happening.

“I don’t know if I agree with Henrik,” Jannik Hansen said this week. “If Jake scores those seven extra goals and they’re all game-winners and we make the playoffs, I’d say they matter.”

Hansen has a point.

But if Jake Virtanen, who has six goals in 42 games and a lot of growing pains as a 19-year-old National Hockey League rookie, scores seven game-winners in the final 14 games and the Canucks make the playoffs, then Donald Trump converts to Islam and completes the New York Times Sunday crossword after winning the U.S. presidency.

So it’s possible.

Just in case, though, the education of Jake Virtanen continues.

On Saturday, the powerful winger was one of the most prominent Canucks in a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators. Before and after, he looked like a kid.

Before, Virtanen posted photos of himself chilling with Justin Bieber after attending the entertainer’s Vancouver concert. (They have lip-synching in common). And after, Virtanen was invisible in the Canucks’ 5-2 loss Monday against the Winnipeg Jets until he popped up in the final minute to score a meaningless goal.

biebs

He has been skating with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the 35-year-olds who have set standards in every aspect of their profession for young Canuck players to strive for.

“I notice a big difference since he came back from the world juniors — just the way he takes care of himself off the ice,” Danny Sedin said of Virtanen. “On the ice, he’s getting better, too. There’s a lot of good things, but there are a lot of mistakes. Those are the things he has to clear out of his game.

“For him, I think it’s more shift in and shift out and playing the right way. He’s 19 years old. He’s there for three or four shifts, then he disappears for five or six shifts. For him, it’s about being focused for 60 minutes. He’s got a ways to go, for sure. I think all the young guys do. But for him, I think that focus is the No. 1 thing.”

The future success of the Canucks, their chance of developing elite core players to replace guys like the Sedins and Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis, hinges greatly on their young players’ ability to prepare and play well every game, to work hard year-round and commit themselves to playing every shift on the correct side of the puck.

As Hank said, it really isn’t about points when you’re 19 or 20 or 21 years old.

“If they’re the guys that have to produce in order for the team to win, you’re going to be in trouble,” Hansen agreed. “They’ve got to play the right way. It’s been preached here for so many years: play the right way, play on the right side of the puck. Once you learn to defend, the offence will come.

“Usually when these young guys come in, it’s because they’ve been so good offensively. That’s why they were drafted so high. But they have to learn the other parts. They’ve been able to do pretty much whatever they wanted in junior. But all of a sudden, it’s not happening (at the NHL level).”

Hansen, a ninth-round 2004 draft pick who hadn’t the benefit of being fast-tracked to the NHL like the Canucks are doing with Virtanen, Jared McCann, Ben Hutton and Bo Horvat, said it took him “two years in the minors with Scott Arniel and Mike Keane hounding me every single day” to learn to play the right way consistently.

Second- and third-overall picks, the Sedins started in the NHL as 20-year-olds but took years to learn to play properly.

“After a while, you really focus on playing well defensively,” Daniel said. “And then you see that playing that way, you’re going to get your chances offensively. You will never win if you have guys cheating trying to get points.”

The most encouraging thing about Virtanen’s rookie season is that his second half has been better than the first and that the turning point was Team Canada’s disastrous world junior tournament at Christmastime when Virtanen was vilified by some for taking costly penalties in a 6-5 loss to Finland that eliminated the Canadians.

“That could have been a tough experience,” Canuck coach Willie Desjardins said. “He did an incredible job the way he handled it. With an experience like that on that stage, there’s potential that it could go the wrong way. But he handled it right.”

Virtanen said: “Management always had that faith in me. People were saying: ‘He’s going to go back to junior. That’s the best thing for him.’ But Willie and Jim Benning and Trevor (Linden), they had that faith in me to come back and keep working on my game.”

He said he knows he has to learn from the Sedins while he still can. They’re under contract two more seasons.

“Henrik and Daniel went through the same thing,” he said. “They started young. Really, you look at them, they even say themselves, the first couple of years they were OK but didn’t really do too much. But they learned the game each and every day ... and look at them now. You’ve got to come every day and be willing to learn.”

imacintyre@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
Head coach Willie Desjardins of the Vancouver Canucks looks around Jake Virtanen #18 of the Canucks  during their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena March 14, 2016 in Vancouver.
 

Head coach Willie Desjardins of the Vancouver Canucks looks around Jake Virtanen #18 of the Canucks during their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena March 14, 2016 in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

 
Head coach Willie Desjardins of the Vancouver Canucks looks around Jake Virtanen #18 of the Canucks  during their NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena March 14, 2016 in Vancouver.
Jake Virtanen chills with Justin Bieber after Friday’s concert at Rogers.
Vancouver Canucks rookie Jake Virtanen puts the moves on Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenceman Matt Hunwick earlier this season at Rogers Arena.
Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulatesJake Virtanen who scored against the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at Rogers Arena February 25, 2016 in Vancouver.
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice