Iain MacIntyre: Young Virtanen still learning — everyone hopes

 

 
 
 
 
Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks .
 

Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks .

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

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Being the youngest player on a National Hockey League team is like being the youngest child in a family of 23.

Not only have you got your dad/coach to answer to, but most of your older siblings also feel empowered to tell you how to play, practise, train, rest, travel, talk, dress, eat, socialize and think.

It’s easy to get sick of all this unending and often uninvited advice, and you could tell Sunday that it is starting to wear on 19-year-old Vancouver Canuck rookie Jake Virtanen.

The key to self-improvement for any young player, like any young person, is to be aware enough to know what you don’t know and sift through the mountain of advice to identity the priceless nuggets that will allow you to grow and build a career.

In life, this process can take many years. In professional sports, however, nobody gets that long to figure it all out.

Hopefully, Virtanen learns from his two-game suspension last week for blindsiding San Jose Shark defenceman Roman Polak with a late, dangerous hit.

But it was clear after Virtanen and the Canucks practised Sunday for tonight’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings that the power forward from Abbotsford didn’t enjoy team captain Henrik Sedin, whose experience and character are unassailable, saying publicly that it was a “late” hit that can’t be made in the NHL.

“I think it’s totally his choice,” Virtanen said, speaking for the first time since his suspension was issued Wednesday. “Obviously, you want your teammates to have your back in those situations. Every guy has their own opinion.”

It was an honest remark by Virtanen, just like Sedin’s were.

Another answer could have been: “Mr. Sedin is 35 years old and has played nearly 1,200 games in this league. If he says I can’t make that hit, then I can’t. I appreciate his advice. Please, sir, may I have some more?”

It’s unreasonable to expect most 19-year-olds to talk or think that way.

“You’re always learning every day,” Virtanen said when asked about the constant advice from teammates. “All the guys are always all over me and (teenage teammate Jared McCann). That’s just how it is as young guys. You’re going to take heat a lot of the time. That’s just how it goes. As a young guy, you’re going to learn a lot. And a lot of guys don’t make the NHL at 19, right?”

Yes, for many reasons.

“Everybody is on Jake’s side,” Canuck coach Willie Desjardins insisted. “But nobody said: ‘Hey, you don’t deserve any (suspension).

“It’s a learning moment. It’s a teaching moment. It wasn’t that Hank wasn’t on his side. It’s not that Hank wouldn’t support him totally. But (Jake) can learn from that. I think that’s all Hank was trying to do. He wasn’t calling him out on it or anything; he was just trying to make sure (Jake) learned from the process and was accountable.”

THE BO SHOW: Watching Bo Horvat during the Canucks’ two-game California sweep against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks — he scored and was plus-one in each game — it’s hard to believe the second-year centre scored only twice in the first 39 games. Or, especially, that Horvat remains 877th and last in the NHL in plus/minus with a rating of minus-34.

The redefining of his role the last month, as Horvat plays slightly less some nights and is deployed more in a checking role, seems to be helping him.

“Willie wants me to be a shutdown guy and play those minutes against top lines, maybe not putting me in the same offensive role with offensive players,” Horvat, who turns 21 on Tuesday, explained. “And I think the last couple of games, it has really helped my game. The more defensive role I’ve been put in, the more points I’m getting. It’s kind of weird that way.”

With two points in Friday’s 3-2 win in Anaheim, Horvat is up to 14 goals and 22 assists for the season. With four games remaining, that represents decent offensive growth from his 25-point rookie campaign. If he improves another 12-14 points next season, Horvat will be a 50-point scorer in the NHL by age 22.

“As a team, obviously it hasn’t been successful and you wanted to do better,” he said. “On an individual standpoint, I wanted to get more points than I did last year and I’ve achieved that. I want to help the team offensively.”

PEDAN TICK: There is method to Desjardins’ apparent madness of playing 22-year-old developing defenceman Andrey Pedan as a forward.

With a waiver decision looming on the Utica Comet call-up at the start of next season, you’d think the Canucks would like to see Pedan as often as possible on the blueline and allow him to show whether he belongs in the NHL. Instead, due to injuries, the tough Russian played as the 12th forward Friday in Anaheim, where he received just 5:01 of ice time, and will play up front again tonight against Los Angeles.

“There are certain jobs open for players to apply for and get,” Desjardins explained. “(One) job that’s kind of open, with Utica being a long ways away, is a guy that’s versatile and can play forward and defence. That’s a job that maybe it’s not clearcut, but it certainly gives you more of a chance to stay with us if you can do both. So I think right now, he’s kind of auditioning for that job.

“He can play a physical role, too. When you play the Anaheims and L.A.s, he’s a big, physical guy. You love to have guys like that in your lineup. And if he’s not, say, a top-six (defenceman), then maybe you can get him in as a forward. I’m not ruling him out as D-man, but I think it’s another spot where he can prove he can play.”

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THE MATCHUP

The Canucks won 3-2 Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, completing a two-night California sweep that ended a nine-game losing streak. The Kings lost 3-2 Saturday at home against the Dallas Stars and are 2-5 in their last seven games, the wins coming against Calgary and Edmonton. The Kings have allowed three-or-more goals and a power-play goal in five of the seven.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Canucks took advantage of the Kings’ slow start by winning 3-0 in Los Angeles on Oct. 13. Since then, the Canucks are 0-2-1 and have scored only twice against the Kings, who won the last two games by a cumulative score of 10-1. Their last visit to Rogers Arena was a 5-0 win on Dec. 28, when Tyler Toffoli had a hat trick and linemate Anze Kopitar four assists.

INJURIES

Canuck RW Jake Virtanen is back from a two-game suspension and RW Derek Dorsett practised Sunday and is expected to play after missing nine of 10 games with an injury. LW Sven Baertschi, LW Chris Higgins and C Linden Vey were all hurt during the two-game California trip, joining RW Radim Vrbata, D Luca Sbisa, D Alex Edler and C Brandon Sutter on the injured list. … The Kings are without RW Marian Gaborik, F Jordan Nolan and D Matt Greene.

HOME OF THE LAME

The Canucks possess the worst home record in the NHL at 13-21-5 and have lost five straight since last winning at Rogers Arena on March 12. With overtime and shootouts, it’s difficult to compare eras. But on a points-percentage basis, the Canucks’ .397 success rate is the worst in franchise history. They need to win one of their last two home games to pass the 1976-77 Canuck team that went 13-21-6 in a 40-game home schedule that pre-dated overtime.

QUOTEBOOK

“Home has been different for us. You look at it and you’re surprised by the number of wins we’ve had at home. I would love to have changed the San Jose games around (last week) where we won at home and not in San Jose. It is different. I don’t know why we’re not winning at home.”

— Canuck coach Willie Desjardins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks .
 

Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks .

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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