This week the Nation Network’s Ryan Pike had the opportunity to chat with top Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen about recovering from his shoulder injury, his experiences at the World Junior Tournament, and his name popping up in trade rumours.
Click past the jump to read the interview.
How was your experience coming off shoulder surgery in the off-season?
It was tough, coming off surgery… It was a long process, took it slow and made sure my shoulder was obviously stable. It was a good long process, something that had to get done, over the summer took it slow, like I said. Happy to get back into the line-up, obviously, 15 or 20 games into the season, you know, trying to help the team try to win a championship.
Speaking of championships, you had the opportunity to compete for – and win – a gold medal at this past World Juniors. What was that experience like?
It was really cool. Obviously a huge experience for me and a great opportunity. As an 18-year-old going in, obviously the chances weren’t super-high of me making the team, but I really wanted to go in there and make an impression. I obviously got taken the for the team, and I just had to play the way the coaches wanted me to and getting a gold medal, playing that whole tournament with such a great group of guys and just an unbelievable team was just a great experience. Standing on that blue line, listening to the Air Canada Center at the end of the day in the finals was just unbelievable. It was a great experience.
You’ve got a great deal of experience playing in big games here in an NHL building with the Hitmen. Was it similar in some ways at the World Juniors?
Exactly. It kind of felt the same, you know. Obviously not the atmosphere-wise, going into the World Juniors it was just completely sold-out and the fans were completely unbelievable, but seeing the Flames here… I’ve been here for three years now, playing in an NHL rink, it’s really the same. You get the NHL experience. It’s really cool, and going up to [NHL] camp too in Vancouver, got the same kind of experience. It was awesome.
Any big plans for the gold medal?
My mom’s actually framing it. I went home for a couple days after World Juniors. She’s going to be framing my jersey and medal. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
The hockey world is still buzzing about the whole Evander Kane trade, but in the lead-up to that deal you were one of the names bandied about in terms of what Vancouver would have to give up to get someone like that. In speaking to the Province, you were one of the players Canucks GM Jim Benning mentioned he wouldn’t include in such a deal. This being your first NHL trade deadline as a tradeable asset, does it linger in your mind a bit?
It’s obviously in the back of my mind a little bit, and a lot of people are tweeting about it and Facebooking me about it, but it’s just a business, right? Whatever the teams need and stuff.
Obviously Vancouver is my home town, it’s just an honour to play there. Just going into camp, I know that I always wanted to be a Canuck and I know that me and a lot of the other guys, we’re really thankful. Obviously Vancouver drafting me and having trust in me, too, that they picked me and stuff like that.
I think I was happy with the whole trade deadline thing. Kane’s a good player, and my buddy actually was in the trade – Brendan Lemieux – so we were actually joking around about it, I gave him a call. But other than that, it was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t too worried about it.
It must be nice being mentioned as somebody they don’t want to move.
It’s obviously an amazing feeling, like I said, that the Vancouver coaching staff trust me and they see (me as a) big (part of the) future for the Canucks. Obviously right now, they want to win a championship and I want to go there, obviously, with the Jared McCanns and Bo Horvat and Shinkaruks and guys like that and win a Cup. So that’s the goal.
Does a season like this, with the World Juniors and your first NHL deadline and stuff like that, does it help you work on off-ice focus and your ability to focus on the game?
I think it’s just part of the game, you know? Like I said, it’s a business and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You’re always fighting for jobs, and you know, next year I’m going to be fighting for a job in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to it. Nothing’s going to be easy. You’re not gonna just show up and make the team, you have to earn it. I’m looking forward to doing that next year and trying to make Vancouver.
Once again, thanks again to Virtanen for speaking with us. We wish him the best of luck as his Calgary Hitmen look to make a deep playoff push!